On the road again…

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a computer long enopugh to write a peroper blog entry and I fear that this will be but a brief sketch of what we’ve been upto in our travels. I’m writing this from a korean internet cafe in Beijing after having met three English people at church this morning, all of whom knew some of my friends from England… Amazing how you seem to have mutual friends with people almost wherever you go.

Anyway, we left Hainan on the morning of the 20th. For a start, the bus to take us to the airport was 30 min late, and the flight wa s30 min earlier than we were expecting so we were in quite a rush. The driver got us to the airport in 20 minutes whereas it would typically take about an hour from our luxurious hotel to get to the airport. Incidentally, Miss World was once held at this hotel.

Upon arrival at the airport, we were confronted with the problem that although we all had tickets, James hadn’t been assigned a seat on the aircraft due to some sillyness on the travel agent’s behalf. Why anyone would think yuou wanted an air ticket without a seat I’m not sure but in ther end for about 30ukp he managed to purchase a seat on the aircraft. We then discovered that of the 9 of us travelling, 5 were in first class whichwas really nice. Because of the bad weather (another typhoonoon had struck ShenZhen) we grounded at the airport at the top of Hainan Island for an hour or two, before finally arriving at SZ a few hours late.

We stayed in ShenZhen on the evening of the 20th with James; brother, Max in a really sweet appartment in the middle of shenZhen. His Chinese girlfriend, Sindy and himself treated us to a really supurb mid-afternoon lunch at the local hotpot resturant. After that we wandered about the shops for a bit – he lives rigfht next to the main shopping district of ShenZhen, specializing in gadgets so I went and drooled over various pieces of electronic equipment whilst Annas and Ruth drooled over bags or hats or whatever it is that they admire. In the evening we said good bye to Anna Oxford and then we all went out and met Daniel Kwong, a friend from 2 years back in Cambridge who came over to SZ from HK specially to see us. It was good to see him again, although getting up at 5am had made us all quite tired so we were not in the most talkative of moods and just went to a KFC. We then went to bed about midnight witht the monsoon rain carrying on through the night (As usual, it seems that whenever we travel with Ben, the day is a total wash-out).

The next day, the weather was fine and the three of us set off on our first proper solo journey – catching a taxi to take us the the airport so we could get to Shanghai. We did this successfully after flying around the pavement and finally resorting to looking the words up in my Chinese dictionary – the cab driver must have been having quite a laugh or been seriously dumb not to realize that we were wanthing togo to the airport when we were standing by the side of the road with our passports, airline tickets and big bags though… The flight was very smooth, although it was very cloudy so we could see nothing of China as we flew the thousand miles up to Shanghai in two hours. There was however, a reallyfunny comedy program on the TVs which we watched as we travelled.

We then went to see Yang’s family in Shnaghai, and what can I say – they were so nice and kind and generous. Yang and Weng live in one two-bedroom appartment and his eldest son, John, and his wife and son live in a neighbouring apartment, also with two bedrooms. The apartments were very plushly decorated. We stayed with John and his son went to live with Yang. On several nights, Weng cooked the most amazing dinners and the whole family was there – it was a really awesome time. However, I will write more about Shanghai and our experiences there later.

On the day when I was ill (I had eaten some dodgie food in centeral Shanghai, I suppose, and vomited several times), Ruth and Anna successfully managed to purchase three sleeper train tickets to get us to Beijing on the morning of the 27th. It was a really good journey; for 35ukp we travelled for 12 hours, arriving at Beijing at about 7am. We then had some breakfast and I had a little explore before we got in the taxi to go to the the place where we are currently staying. There is quite a long story behind this, but basically whilst Ruth and I were in Cambridge last year, we made good friends with a Korean girl called Borah. Her aunt happens to be living in Beijing, and the Korean church which she attends owns two seriously nice appartments for visitors to stay in. We were very shocked by the generosity in letting us have one of these and even more shocked when we arrived.

We arrived by taxi and were met by Borah’s 15 yearold cousin who is fluent in 4 languages, one of which is English. She and her father took us to the appartment which is in part of Beijing unofficially called Korean town, for somewhat obvious reasons. We opened the door to the appartment,and what a sight met our eyes! It is really difficult to explain, you need to see pictures, but the only wors to describe it is ‘pad’ and that does not do it justice. It’s probably larger than my house, having a large sitting room/dining room with several large leather chairs and a sofa. There is one double-bedroom with en-suite and two other bedrooms with two single beds in and a lot of floor space. There are two additional wash-rooms and a large kitchen, and then several other large rooms which seem to have no real purpose. The place could easily hold 20 people sleeping. However, it’s not just a large house, it is exquisitly decorated with wood finishings and in the korean style – it’s simply amazing.

We unpacked and then went into town to meet Jenny, a girl from one of the camps we did. She took us to Tiananmen square to see the flag lowering ceremony (which we missed as we were reading the paper – I thought there would at least be a trumpet fanfare or something of that sort, but apparently they just silently lower the flag. We then walked about Beijing, ate at a fast-dumpling place for 26rmb (1.60ukp) for 4 people – seriously cheap by Chinese standards and then looked at someof the shops. I acquired a set of 10 postcards (at last!) from a street vendor who originally asked for 45rmb. When I offered her 5rmb (about 0.35ukp) she laughed so I tried to walk away, however she clung to my arm lowering the price until it reached the 5 I originally offered. I;’m sure the going rate is about 3rmb anyway.

Haggling is becomign increasingly addictive; I find myself haggling for things which I don’t evenwant just to get the adrenaline kick from getting somethi ng seriously cheap. I bought a set of 10 small kites from a street seller in tiananmen square yesterday for 2rmb, not even wanting them, but for 13pence, how can you loose? I have bought a lot of traditional Chinese stuff like fans and materials and also a few clothes – hopefully more to follow soon.

As we were wandering around Beijing, we were invited to a very random art exhibition by the artist himself and then went down a souviner street with various watches and clocks with Mao’s waving and swastikers and all that stuff. There were also lots of other things to be bought there. Getting the subway back at 9pm was fun althouygh we didn’t realize that one of the lines closed at 9:30 and we only just made this train. The nearest station is about 10 min by taxi from our pad, so we had to get a taxi back which was really difficult because none of the taxi drivers seemed to know any roads or even be awear we were in Beijing. In England, if you get a taxi you expect them to be vaguely awear of the roads around the area but apparently it doesnt matter in China (the same is true of Shnaghai and Shenzhen). There were also a number of locals with cars offering their services and the ubiquitous cycle-taxi holding two people. After asking about 10 taxi drivers if they knew where this road was we finally managed to get home. We waited up a while for Borah to arrive but when it turned out she wouldnt arrive for a while longer, we went to sleep.

I was awoken at 7:30 in the morning by 2 elderly Korean ladies, a middle-aged couple and a 2 year-old baby at the foot of my bed and trying to communicate with my in Korean and Chinese. When that failed they finally realized that I could probably speak English and so explained that they were expecting to live in this house. We spoke to the people who look after the house, and they were not expecting these people either. We’ve been out since then and met up with Borah at Korean church and then the international serive, so I wonder what the situation is like now…

Anyway, I really out to go and I will update more about Shanghai at another time. Hopefully Ellie will be arriving at 5:30am tomorrow morning, and then we’ll spend some time togeather before the three of us come back to England on the evening of the 1st.

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