The Beat of New York City

Stop right there. Let me rewind time a little bit. I’ll take you back to October, when I visited Krissy in NYC. It’s difficult to put into words how amazing this trip was. I fell in love with the city fairly quickly. I was only there for 8 days, unfortunately, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I guess my experience of the city was enhanced by the fact that I was overjoyed to finally see and be with Krissy again.

There was a lot to see, and a lot to experience. We tried, as much as possible, to be efficient in seeing and trying new things every day. When Krissy would go to class in the afternoon, I would wander off on my own and just explore the city on foot.

Apart from all the beautiful, new things to see, I was also very excited by what I could hear and what I could smell. Something that stays fresh in my mind is the sound of the subway. This might seem weird to many, but in Copenhagen, I take the train every day and the two experiences are significantly different that it creates a stark contrast in my mind. Imagine this: you’re waiting for your train; the tunnels are dark lit only by underground lights; you hear background chatter from other commuters; as the whirring train arrives, you set yourself up to get in swiftly, trying to find your place in the out and inward stream of people. Inside, the chugging sound of the subway train fills your ears, overlaid with the often-garbled sound of the PA system. Blurred silhouettes from passing stations flash your eyes. It’s really the small details that I really opened myself up to. The result was (literally) sensational.

I even love the feeling of emerging from the subway station, especially in mid to downtown Manhattan, where you find yourself walking in the midst of the hustle and bustle, where the busy streets overshadowed by towering skyscrapers. This animated and breathing concrete jungle offers a unique palette of imagery and an orchestra of sounds that, to me, is undeniably exciting and stimulating. With the imagery and rhythm all around me, it was easy to feel the heart of this metropolis pulsating to the beat of New York City.

Have a look through my photos. I wrote captions to most of them, and these help give a better idea of what this trip was like for me.

Thanks for reading.

/G

A Merry Hua Hin Christmas

DSC09171

I have been fortunate enough to end my amazing exchange experience by celebrating Christmas with my family in Sam Roi Yod, Hua Hin – Thailand: and what a Christmas! It might not entail snow and your usual runny noses, but Hua Hin did offer 30 degrees Celsius, pool and shade under the palm trees. It was great to see my family again, especially my clown of a brother <3 Danish tradition is to celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, with a massive dinner table carrying roasted duck, pork, white and brown potatoes, red cabbage, gravy and ris a la mande. A tradition is a tradition. Thus, my tummy contained all such wonders on the 24th, mixed with a good deal of red wine. Our Christmas tree was somewhat untraditional this year, yet the Christmas spirit was as high as ever.

It is not my first time in Thailand, and it is great to be back once again. If you know what touristy places to avoid, this country is simply wonderful. The Thai people are the most smiling and warm-hearted I’ve ever met, with a good dose of humor, always making fun of you, themselves or whatever comes to their mind. Thailand to me means laughter. Obviously Thai food contribute to the wonder of this country, and this Christmas season has offered many plates of pad thai, king prawns and spicy curry.

The 25th of December was spent on a scooter cruising through Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, scouting for monkeys (for your information: not difficult to spot). There is nothing like experiencing the country-side from the back of a scooter, feeling the wind and the sun on your face, whilst the landscape opens up to you. The park contains dozens of mountainous limestone hills, which stand before you wherever you turn. As you cruise along you will find freshwater marshes and shrimp farms, with beautiful temples scattered around the park. My brother and I also worked off the duck-calories by climbing up to the Phraya Nakhon Cave. A sweaty journey, yet worth while every out-of-shape-breath that you will take. But beware of snakes! My brother nearly stepped on one and had a near-death-experience (read: not at all, but two Danish youngsters definitely got spooked, trying to remember what we have learned on Animal Planet).

On a less-serious note, most of the time has been spend by the poolside, or on our rooftop soaking up some dangerous sunrays. A fair amount of Leo beers have also been consumed in the Jacuzzi overlooking the mountaintops as the sun was setting. It is peculiar how fast the days go by when you do absolutely nothing.

The most memorable moments, this time around, have undoubtedly been the many scooter cruising’s, with my brother as the driver, covering much of Thailand’s countryside. As must by now be known world-wide the Moeller-family is somewhat out of the ordinary, and my brother and I undoubtedly scared a Thai family or two, having covered all possible Christmas songs, “singing” at the top of our lungs in the heat as we drove around. Also late-night cruising at the coast of Sam Roi Yod beach, with only the moon as light will not be forgotten.

Our housing is located in the true Thai country-side, approximately 30 min. outside of Hua Hin, surrounded by beach + cows. Thus, there is always some excitement about “going to the city”. In Hua Hin, the necessary shopping is always done, finding some great bargains, and the city spree is always concluded at the night-market, eating burritos and sipping frozen margaritas at an excellent Mexican joint. Most importantly, the mandatory mango-and-sticky-rice dessert is brought with us home.

Our concluding days here will undoubtedly resemble the others, and I simply do not want them to end.

With the best wishes of a Merry Christmas and a fun and safe New Years Eve, I complete the ranting’s from Hua Hin.

/Krissy

Nasi Goreng vs. Mooncakes

Only a few weeks into the semester, and the first mini-holiday presented itself. The Mid-Autumn Festival / Mooncake Festival / Chinese Lantern Festival provided me with an extended weekend, and I of course had to use that opportunity to see more of Asia.

I thus left behind Hong Kong and all the mooncakes, and instead headed off to Jakarta – Indonesia – with my travel companion, Mette.

Travelling by plane was the oddest thing! After so many weeks of travelling by train with Mette through China, it was strange to once again feel the comforts of a plane seat. Flying with Garouda Air, and having the dilemma of choosing what movies to indulge in on the 5 hour journey from Hong Kong was a luxury.

Now, what made this five-day holiday great was undoubtedly the open arms we were met with. Family friends of my parents opened their door to us, and not only provided us with the best accommodation one could wish for, but enlightened us with insider-information and secrets of this wild capital, catered to our taste buds, provided excellent company and late-night talks. It is also because of them that I finally got to watch “The Painted Veil. It is not the first time I have drawn on their hospitality, and I do hope it will not be the last time, either. Experiencing Jakarta would not have been the same without the Hejl-family.

Jakarta served as an interesting contrast to the rest of our journey through Russia, Mongolia and China. The vibe and the dynamics that prevail here differed immensely, and I loved every contrast.

This capital is the most populous city in Southeast Asia, which clearly shows once you try to get trapped in the infamous traffic jams. These macro-jams won’t get any better any time soon. According to the Economist, traffic gridlock will occur by 2014, unless the government makes drastic changes to the infrastructure. Because of urban migration, more and more vehicles are added to the existing roads, putting pressure on the whole setup. Hopefully the future will provide a solution, so as to facilitate and ignite the country and its economy.

The people of Jakarta proved to be absolutely wonderful. Everywhere we turned we were met with the biggest smiles and by joyful laughter. I often feel quite uncomfortable taking pictures of locals, as I feel I am invading a space where I am genuinely not allowed. However, several times we experienced how the Indonesians were the ones contacting us, asking if they could pose for a picture. They found it so amusing. Also, several encounters with children gave us another great insight into Indonesian culture: there is an all-prevailing curiosity, which helped to eliminate all barriers of contact. It was great to have these direct-encounters, even though we could only visit the city for such a short period.

Taman Mini was visited, which is a recreational park displaying the Indonesian culture. I was astonished by the beautiful and detailed architecture you could find here, as local pavilions and houses had been set up to demonstrate just how different such are in the various provinces of Indonesia. We also enjoyed a few hours at the Indonesian Museum, and visited the bird park here – activities which all exceeded my expectations. However, watching Indonesian traditional dances performed by local children hit home run with me. The hand movements are so intricate, and you easily lose all sense of time and space if you keep watching these mesmerizing moves.

Sunday unfolded itself at Thousand Island in the waters of Jakarta Bay. I would not mind spending every Sunday like this. Turquoise waters, sandy beaches and snorkeling opportunities. What more could one ask for?

Experiencing the beautiful Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque also gave me a great insight into this capital. What resonates with me very deeply is when several religions can unfold themselves within the same borders, and I find Indonesia – and also Malaysia – as great examples of such. These two great, religious buildings are not only equally respected, but are also built right next to each other. You only have to cross the main street to move from one sacred building to the other. Mutual respect and understanding is something the rest of the world should take a note of.

Bogor Botanical Gardens also proved worth a visit. Situated some 60 km outside of Jakarta, the park consists of more than 15,000 plants and trees. It is said to be Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who initiated the building of the gardens, so a thick history of colonialism hangs over the place. The trees were gigantic, and it was a great feeling walking around so much greenery after having spent a few days in in a city choked with poverty and pollution.

Yummy in my tummy!

Whilst Jakarta features on many black lists, such as the ugliest city, the most hated city, etc., I certainly found a charm here. Perhaps the Indonesian language gave me positive connotations to my travels in Malaysia, which then may have fogged my judgment. Perhaps, the comforts of staying with family friends blurred reality. However, I came to really enjoy my stay. I ate a lot of Nasi Goreng, was overjoyed by the friendly people I met, and found a beauty in the rough streets. Clouded judgment or not, I wish and hope to come back one day, to explore the rest of Indonesia.

/Krissy

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

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