A Travellerspoint blog

China

Everyone was Kungfu Fighting

Last days in China

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And so our time in the Land of the `Made In` and `Kungfu Russian Triads` is drawing to a close. We saw Kungfu Russian Triads written on the back of team tracksuits, I kid you not. Too funny . . . . .

We are genuinely sad to be leaving this country and its strange ways. We will come back though because we have seen relatively little of this place. Travel here has been hard, hilarious, annoying, beautiful and on the odd occasion very ugly. We have felt safe here compared to South East Asia but it would be so tough on your own. All of those frustrating moments that could wear you down and make life a living hell have been funny and good email material for us.

We arrived in Beijing almost ten days ago. We are staying in a hostel that is relatively good and very well set up for the backpacking crowd with free internet and decent food. There is a big mural in the hostel that says `Life is Backpacking!`.

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Yeah right . . .whoever wrote that obviously had not done two overnight trains in a row in Southern China. Believe me when I say that is NO LIFE!!!!! We have a different theory on what life is. . . .you will have to buy the book . . Haha!!!!

We have discovered through our travels (especially in China) that almost everything seems better after a good meal and some sleep . . . .or by getting hopelessly drunk. Both are legitimate remedies for travel woes. We recommend the first, followed closely by the second!! Another good remedy is souvenir shopping. We are not big on souvenirs as a general rule due to budget and space constraints. However, on our first morning in Beijing we saw some that we could not pass up. They were Chairman Mao watches not disimiliar to the old school Mickey Mouse watches. They were gorgeous, complete with a little commie red star on the end of the second hand. We got two for about $10 Ozzie. Nothing captures China`s struggle between communist thinking and capitalist ways better. Not only that, we spent the rest of the day saying things like `Chairman Mao says it`s time for lunch. Meaghan agrees with the Chairman`. That was the best $10 we have EVER spent. Of course, the watches` ability to keep time is very average but hey, Chairman Mao is always right . . . isn`t he?

Oops, in my excitement about our Chairman Mao watches I have failed to mention some stuff. `Chairman Mao says it`s time to mention it. Meaghan agrees with the Chairman!` If Adam had artistic control over this email, all the facts would have been in the first paragraph. Anyway, we are staying in the centre of town about a 5 min walk away from Tiananmen Square. We caught the bus from the train station to our hostel with about 1258 of our closest friends. It was ridiculous . . The Olympics are going to be funny. We visited the Square and the Foridden City both of which are quite amazing. China loves big stuff and the Square is huge. It is a place of incredible cultural significance for the people. It has been the place of celebrations and special cultural events - it has also been a place of student protesting for many decades dating right back to the early 1900s. The most recent and famous student protest ended in tragedy and there is not a mention nor a plaque stating that this occurred. Despite its sad past, Tiananmen Square is a bustling place, full of life and people and China if you know what I mean. We love walking through it everyday.

One of the most exciting things we have done on our travels is visit the Great Wall . . ..and it is great by the way.

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We caught public transport out to Simatai - relatively close to Beijing, however, it took us four hours to get there. It was worth every minute!! The Wall was imposing and steep.

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The 6km round trip walk is quite difficult which means that there are no big tour groups to contend with and we had many solitary moments which was amazing. The weather turned it on for the day, the view was fabulous and we walked in t-shirts.

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It was a surprisingly tough climb and we were exhausted at the end. We still haven`t worked out why they thought building the wall was a good idea . . I guess there are just too many rabbits in China!!! After the walk, we had to brave public transport all the way back. We were both happy to get back in one piece.

Another one of our epic days (there have been many in Beijing) was a bike ride out to the Summer Palace. It sounds leisurely doesn`t it? That's what we thought too . . .The problem is that the scale on our map is quite small and the Lonely Planet (we bless and curse that book every day!!) said it was an easy ride. That made us seriously question if the author actually did the ride themselves. We suspect not. We hired some cheap bikes that were hilarious. I am a terrible bike rider and having a bike with poor steering and a rock for a seat did not help. Adam`s bike was so funny. It was new but the brakes didn`t work that well. Potentially a recipe for disaster. On more than one occasion, Adam had to drag his feet along the ground to narrowly avoid getting sandwiched by buses. He also nearly got hit by a car - the driver was too busy staring at the Laowai on a bike to actually stop. My narrow escapes normally involved what we called Random Right Turners (RRTs). All RRTs turn without looking and at speed and they are everywhere!!! We found the best method was to cross intersections with the local bike riders and there were plenty of them. We were like BMX bandits on crap bikes!! There are bike lanes everywhere in Beijing but they are also shared by buses and taxis all of which were RRTs. The city is basically flat so riding is physically easy but mentally harrowing. It took us four hours to get to the Summer Palace which was delightful but all we could think about was the ride home.

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It only took us two hours to get home which was in time to watch Australia beat China 2-0 in a soccer match. That`s for all the RRTs!!!!!

We have had a few splurges in China. The first indulgence was an Australian bottle of red wine. It cost just under $10 Ozzie but it was worth every cent. I even enjoyed the hangover!! We drank it in the hostel restaurant terrified that our new Danish friends would find us and we would have to share. They did find us but we were down to our last glass (and sufficiently tanked) so there was no requirement to offer them any! Sorry Christian and Marie. . . . . .Our other splurge was Peking Duck (sorry Ping!!!). We wanted to enjoy this luxury in a little restaurant somewhere in the Hutong near where we were staying. More on the Hutong later. Anyway, we found the perfect place that lived up to all expectations which is always a pleasant surprise. The restaurant is hard to find and it looks like its days might be numbered. The Government are knocking down the old historical Hutong areas to make way for bigger roads to accommodate the Olympic Games traffic and tourists. It is sad because these areas are like the real China and are of great cultural and historical significance. This restaurant was in the middle of all the rubble and reconstruction and looked quite destitute. When we walked in, it was full of Laowais and locals and character. We ordered duck (of course) and a bottle of local red despite the Australian wines on offer. It was so funny, they bring the whole duck over to your table to inspect like a bottle of wine. We couldn`t stop laughing. We rolled our little duck pancakes using only chopsticks which we thought was impressive until we saw the locals getting down and dirty with their hands. It was a great dinner, one we will remember for the rest of our lives.

The food in China has generally been good. We went up to a night market, which was very disappointing because it was contrived and touristy but they were selling some weird stuff. We have spent so much time in Asia getting used to people trying to sell us stuff by yelling out `Hello Pineapple / Tuk tuk / kite` to the point where we were convinced that Adam`s name was actually Motorbike. We heard a new one at the night market - `Hello Testicle`. That is by far our favourite for now!!!

Stay tuned for the next entry from Ulaan Baatar - Mongolia!!!

Posted by adamandmeg 22:04 Archived in China Comments (1)

Hangin Tough

Are you tough enough... to travel in China

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We are still hanging tough in China. They love New Kids on the Block here!!

So here we are in Xi`an. We braved some more communal living action on yet another overnight train and arrived unscathed and even managed to get some kip along the way. Heaven!! Before this trip I imagined long distance train travel in sleepers to be so relaxing and romantic. I now have a very different opinion and view the fast approaching Trans Siberian leg with some trepidation.

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Xi`an is another big city, lots of shops, lots of people, lots of people staring at us. We even stare at other Laowais now. What has become of us?

We went out to the Terracotta Warriors yesterday which was amazing. The local bus cost only $4 return for both of us AND we found all of the other Laowais!! It was stare heaven for us - we couldn`t work out where they had all materialised from. Too exciting!! Anyway, back to the lifesize clay dudes. . .There were over 6000 of them, all intricately designed with individual facial expressions. They were only discovered 30 years ago, equipped with real swords that were still sharp. Not all of them have survived but the subsequent preservation and restoration work that is being done is immaculate. The experience wasn't even spoilt by dumb locals and Laowais using flash photography (underneath signs requesting that you don`t) or the fact that it was about 2 degrees. Fabulous, amazing, brilliant. We thanked Buddha that an Emperor died and his minions decided to recreate his Army in terracotta to bury with him. I asked Adam what he would build when I died and he said a Batchelor Pad!!

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There is a heavy Muslim influence here in Xi`an. Our staple food has been a weird kind of Asian kebab. It is basically random meat with capsicum and spices stuffed in pita. The other day we had one with the normal meat and capsicum as well as what we suspected might have been seafood extender. Oh well, down the hatch. . . .

We wandered through an interesting market in the Muslim quarter which sold pretty much everything. We saw a little Chinese girl feeding a box full of ducklings with bok choy - it was so cute. Then right next to her, there was another little girl carrying two unhappy ducklings in a plastic shopping bag. It was pretty tough to look at but at least the little tackers know where their food comes from.

All of the Chinese people we have met have both Chinese and English names. We think that they just get to choose their English name which is very cool. A Chinese rockstar had an advertsing poster in a record store - his English name was Gary Superman. How good is that? Lucky our parents didn`t let us pick our own names because we would be called Beverley Barry and John Wayne Evans. Not so cool!!!

Despite the amazing places we have seen and the brilliant people we have met, we have had many moments of complete boredom. We have had to fill these moments by making up witty slogans for Laowai t-shirts, playing cards, waving to locals staring at us, singing out loud in crowded places and staring at other Laowais. And (I can`t believe I am going to write this but . . ) thank God for Starbucks! It has ok coffee (because we buy the cheap stuff), comfy couches, heating and free wireless internet. If you stay long enough, they even bring around free samples of coffee to taste. The one we are currently in even has a western toilet and toilet paper. If the food vendors were allowed to home deliver, we would never leave!!

We are catching a train to Beijing tonight. It is a T class train which means fast - good facilities. As the eternal optimist, I am getting all excited thinking that it may have heating and that the guards will enforce the No Smoking signs. Adam just gives me that look that translates into `Hello . . . . Fantasyland`. Not disimiliar to the time that I got all excited by a free breakfast in a hotel and after picking through the cigarette ash, all they served was cold carrots in various forms and cream cake. Lucky I like cake. . . .Anyway, all that aside, the train only takes 12 hours (how bad can it be - haha) and we are very much looking forward to spending 10 days in and around the capital.

Hope everyone is well back home. We would both kill for a good bottle of Australian red right now!!!

Posted by adamandmeg 21:28 Archived in China Comments (3)

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away. . .

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Hidey Ho Junior Rangers,

Yep still in China . . . . . and thus begins the saga of the Yangtze Cruise . . . .

So Cruise Ships for me evoke images of "Fair Star - the Fun Ship" or of course, the ever popular "Love Boat - Exciting and New". Five Star luxury, swimming pools, friendly staff, great food and definitely cocktails. Well let me tell you about Chinese Cruise Ships . . . . .

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Everyone kept saying "Lucky, you are on the the good boat tomorrow". Well we would hate to see the bad one. We were in a second class cabin which was pretty tiny (surprisingly not like the picture at all) and we were sharing it with a Chinese couple. They spoke no English, we speak no Chinese, an awkward arrangement to say the least.

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Our guide was very very camp and very very annoying. He introduced himself as something that sounded like Jane - so we called him Jane which of course we found hilarious. He didn't seem to care because we have Laowai (foreigner) immunity. He was constantly trying to extort money out of us by telling us to upgrade and trying to book our onward travel. It got to the point where I said flat out that we were not going to tell him where we were going after the boat trip to stop his bloody nagging!! He also kept telling us off for not listening to local guides even though we told him on a number of occasions that we didn't understand Chinese. It was a good day if we could go 2 hours without seeing Jane!

The boat had certainly seen better days. We wanted to check out the engine room and take some photos for Dad Barry but everything looked scary and shakey in there. Also it is quite hard to explain that you "want to take photos of the engine room because your Dad is a marine engineer back in Australia" all in Chinese. That is not one of the phrases in the back of the Lonely Planet!!

People smoked everywhere on the ship - a favourite spot was directly underneath the No Smoking signs. There was cigarette burns on the furniture and ash and butts on the "I've seen better days" carpet. It was truly a delight!! Not to mention the terrible Chinese karaoke. It tended to kick off at about 10am. This one guy got up and sang a few really bad renditions of Chinese favourites and then thanked the crowd (of five including us) like a complete rock star. Too funny. . . they don't even get drunk first which is a prerequisite for doing karaoke in Australia.

Back to the boat - there were two, I repeat two, lifeboats that would fit about 15 people in. The life jackets were of very similiar vintage and design to those worn by Kate and Leonardo in "Titanic" although decidedly more mouldy. Lucky there were no icebergs to speak of for the whole trip. It did however, feel cold enough!!!

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The Yangtze is a remarkable river. It is over 6000km in length and is a lifeline for millions of people. The smallish towns on its banks are bigger than Sydney and goods are constantly shuttled up and down the river. The scenery in between the cities constantly changed between average and amazing. The Three Gorges, which are very famous, were spectacular but sometimes hidden amongst the fog and pollution. I have been a little intrigued by the Yangtze River ever since I saw the Playschool episode where they read the book "Ping". Ping was a duck who lived on the Yangtze on a little wooden boat with eyes. The eyes painted on the bow of the boat are for good luck by the way. Little did I realise that Ping was an early iteration of Peking Duck. All the same the story was enchanting, however the real deal is not quite the same. We saw very little wildlife on the river - poor old Ping would have had a tough time surviving in the polluted water. Also the Yangtze is in the process of being dammed. The project has been on going since about 1997. When it is finished it will be the biggest dam in the world. The costs other than dollars are also huge. Up to 2 million people have to be relocated, the potential for catastrophe is relatively high and a number of endangered species have even a tougher fight for life. It is scary and a little sad. We are not sure if the general public are proud of the feat of engineering or too scared to voice their real opinions. According to the Lonely Planet someone ended up in prison for ten months for voicing hers.

The voyage was certainly an experience - sharing a room with locals was difficult. Despite the No Smoking sign, our room mate wasn't afraid to light up and due to the lack of space we couldn't all be in the room at once - except for sleeping. We felt like homeless Laowais constantly wandering around the boat looking for somewhere to sit without cigarette smoke. And did I mention that our room mate also snored? In a massive way . . his poor wife probably never sleeps!! Anyway, we did meet a fantastic couple from Poland - Dariusz and Ella. There were 7 Laowais on a boat of about 300 - 400 people so we all stood out and people made a point of staring. . .all of the time. Even after three days they still stared. It was too funny. Dariusz travels to China for business and speaks Mandarin which was quite an unfair advantage!! But it was very handy because he listened in on conversations for us.

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They were both very funny and saved us from going completely insane on the boat!! We had so much trouble sleeping so we were constantly tired and trying not to be grumpy. I am pleased to say that after a particularly rough night, Adam began to embrace the cone of silence and was worse than me!!!!!!!

So the post match wrap up is "Three days is way long enough and pay extra for your own room!!!".

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We arrived in Yichang a little scarred but in good spirits. We are staying for two days, mainly to get washing done. Our clean clothes store is perilously low. We are staying in a good hotel - by ourselves (haha) - and are enjoying uninterrupted sleep. Tomorrow we are braving communal living again and catching the sleeper train to Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors. Buying train tickets is always hilarious. People LOVE staring at us at the train station and we are never sure if we have bought a ticket to the town we want to go to. Ticket purchasing involves Adam speaking excellent Chinese (well I can understand him even if the locals don't) and drawing pictures not unlike a good game of Pictionary. We seem to have it down to a fine art now - we know how to find out the train numbers before getting to the ticket counter and we are both proficient at the blocking maneouvre so people can't push in. We love it and always high five after a successful purchase. The real high five is saved for when we arrive in the right city!! We have decided not to go to Shanghai due to exhaustion and time constraints. Next time maybe . . . .

Always great to get emails and hear news from home. Chinese newspapers are very hard to read!!!!

Posted by adamandmeg 22:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

It's been a hard days night (or two)

They love The Beatles in Yangshuo

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Greetings Brothers and Sisters (very communist greeting - we love a bit of communism!!)

We have been in China for over a week now and seriously, South East Asia feels like years ago. Everything is so very different including the weather which I believe we have already mentioned once or twice before.

We spent a lovely two days in Yangshuo. It is a haven that feels a little purpose built for backpackers but it was beautiful albeit freezing! We hired bikes and headed out of the city for a day. The scenery was amazing and the road was reasonably challenging - well for me anyway, I don`t have a great track record on bikes!! It was rocky and muddy and potholed which was hilarious. At least our bikes had brakes which turned out to be essential. We reluctantly left Yangshuo to head to the Yangtze River.

When you travel in China we believe it is a rite of passage to do two overnight trains in a row. We caught a bus from Yangshuo to Guilin and then an overnight train to Guiyang. There a few different classes of travel. Apart from the sitting and standing tickets there are soft and hard sleepers. The soft sleepers are in enclosed cabins of four. The hard sleepers are in open compartments of six. Because there were no hard sleepers available we had to rough it in the soft sleepers. It turned out that we had the whole cabin to ourselves . . . And we still couldn`t sleep . . . Go figure!!!

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We arrived in Guiyang absolutely exhausted and not ready for the scenes that awaited us. The train station was packed with people waiting in what looked too be random queues. We needed to buy tickets for the next leg but had no idea where to start. We checked our bags into a nice hotel - pity we didn`t check in with them - and went to brave the crowds. It was like a refugee camp quite seriously. We were very freaked out.

After looking useless for quite a while we asked a policemen who then tracked down a dude for us who then proceeded to make us do a queue jump of mammoth proportions. He dragged us past about 200 people and booked us hard sleepers for that night. Nice one . . . . . . We then had about 12 hours to kill in Guiyang which nearly killed us. We spent the whole day trying to find somewhere to sit down and everyone else spent their whole day staring at us. The word for foreigner is Laowai (sounds like Cow Eye). Everyone just yells it out and then points at us. We are going to get T-shirts made up saying I`m with the Laowai. Or Yes, I`m a Laowai, tell your friends!! It started to wear really thin when we were trying to sleep on the train and would wake up intermittently with three of four people just watching us. That`s right team, Laowai`s sleep as well, who would`ve thought? Adam has started yelling to me `Hey look, it`s a Chinese person!`. Because no-one speaks English we feel like we are constantly in the cone of silence. I have embraced this concept more readily than Adam and I say what I like when I like. It is great but will catch us out if we happen to accidently stumble upon an Eyez. Eyez`s are the nickname we have given to Earnest Young English Speakers. Tim Moore (an Australian travel writer) came up with the description and says that they are like Born Again Christians but worship English instead of Jesus. He was so right . . They are always neat, young, well dressed individuals who are incredibly helpful. We met one Eyez called Johanna who actually travelled on the bus with us and walked us to the railway station. We were the first Laowai`s she had ever spoken to.

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Anyway, we arrived in Chongqing with a few hours of watched sleep under our belts but in desperate need of showers and beds nonetheless. We arrived in the centre of town looking for somewhere to stay and with taxi drivers stalking us. We had four on the go at one stage and they were nearly running in to each other. So funny. Anyway, the short version of the story is that we found somewhere to stay, tried to find the port to book boat tickets, got hopelessly lost, walked about 10km, found the port, ended up booking tickets through our hotel because it was cheaper, and then finally got a few hours sleep. We headed out for dinner and found a fabulous restaurant with awesome food that only cost us under $2 for both of us too eat. Tried to find a bar but the bar culture that we are looking for is seriously lacking in China.

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Anyway, we are hitting the boat tonight and will be on it for three nights arriving in Yi Chang on the 15th. From there we are going to catch another overnight train to Shanghai. Should be a grand adventure for these Laowais!!!

Posted by adamandmeg 22:24 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

Isn't It Ironic

Hey Laowai!!!

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Isn`t It Ironic, Don`t You Think?

Ni Hao Friends, (that is hello in Chinese)

Yep, last email it was all about aircon of the cold variety. It is like the weather gods said `If they want airconditioning we`ll give it to them`. And we got it in bucketloads . . . . of the natural variety. South East China decided to have a cold snap and I can personally vouch for the truth in the weather reports at the moment. It is bloody freezing!!! Does the heating in the room work? Excellent, we`ll take it.

So, we arrived without incident into the land of `Made In`. Everthing is made in China apparently. Point to note, there are Chinese restaurants everywhere and asking where China Town is, is highly unnecessary. We took the slow boat as well . . .

Our last few days in Vietnam were interesting to say the least. Our last bus trip from Hue to Hanoi was again very average. Do not travel with An Phu under any circumstances! The other companies may be just as bad but at least they won`t be worse. We arrived in Hanoi and found what we thought to be a good hotel right in the middle of the old quarter. We then got thrown out of the hotel because we failed to book a to book a tour through them. It was heated, aggressive and very threatening. Another strong recommendation - do not stay at Hanoi Spirit Hotel. We did end up meeting a really nice couple from England though who were also thrown out - we will definitely catch up with them when we get to Europe. We did a trip up to Ha Long Bay which was amazing. The scenery was beautiful even though the weather wasn`t great. Rob, we are chasing up your theory on the naming of Ha Long Bay - we will get back to you!! We really didn`t have enough time in Hanoi, it was a lovely city. Next time perhaps. . . . .

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The border crossing into China was uneventful. We sort of followed two older Singaporean men - they were like Waldorf and Staedtler out of the muppets. Hilarious. Waldorf was wearing the most wicked pair of polyester flairs I have seen this side of an Op Shop. They both spoke Mandarin which is pretty handy in China. We were going to share a taxi with them to Nanning but it was too expensive for us. We caught a motorbikey thingamy and then a semi uncomfortable, crowded train. On the train we had a lovely conversation with a Chinese couple. No idea what they said (and vice versa I suspect) but it was a very pleasant exchange nonetheless. We arrived in Nanning quite exhausted. The city was huge, clean and very busy. It was also very cold. . . .I am starting to freak out about Siberia. . . . .

Buying a train ticket to Guilin was hilarious. There are no English signs and everything is very confusing in the train stations. The Lonely Planet proved its worth as we tried to translate the Chinese characters.

`OK, we are looking for a guy with a Christmas tree and two ladies dancing`

`Got it!! Train N804`

We bought our tickets and then ate good two minute noodles for dinner (made in China of course). As we headed to the train the next day we managed to answer the age old question -

What happens if you get to the end of the escalator and there is no room to get off?

A fifty person pile up of course! Hilarious but I don`t wish to repeat the experience. As soon as my ankle gets better it will be back the stairs for us! We managed to get to Guilin and then onto Yangshuo which is a really beautiful place.

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Megs in Yangshuo

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It is surrounded by very high limestone peaks and is bloody cold. We have a couple more days in Yangshuo and then we are heading to the Yangtze River. It will probably take us a few days to get there. We continue to leave our travels in the hands of the travel gods or up to dumb luck or as the Chinese say -

`Like a hunter waiting for rabbit to kill itself by running into a tree.`

That is only four Chinese characters. Who would have thought??? It is currently our favourite saying.

So far China has been fantastic and vastly different to countries in South East Asia. The food has been great and there are hardly any tourists anywhere. People just openly stare at us - I like to think it is because we are incredibly beautiful but I suspect it is because we are funny looking as well as being giants.

Anyway, that is all from the coldest place in the world.

Posted by adamandmeg 20:51 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

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