Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lijiang, China

These were where I ate the whole time I was in Lijiang

Oldest band alive

Lijiang is so lovely, I was speechless. I spent 2 days there wandering around the old town, climbed up the hill and watched a Naxi Orchestra and I still feel like it wasn't enough. Nonetheless, I think It'd be lovelier if it wasn't so touristy. Looking at Lijiang, one could tell it could never sustain itself if it wasn't for the influx of tourists that it's getting, the town thrives on tourism. Hence, I think the best time is actually around dawn, before the flocks of tourists swarm into it, btw, I'm talking about the old city. As for the new city, there's nothing special about it.

I'm leaving Lijiang today, Yunnan province as a matter of fact. I'm currently on the train bound for Chengdu that departed at 655pm from the Jinjiang station in Panzhihua. (Panzhihua can get you to Chengdu without going back to Kunming, just as mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but it failed to mention that the train station is so freaking far from the train station). To get to the railway station, you will need to take the red/yellow bus and go around the town for almost an hour before it gets there. The good news is that that only costs 3yuan.

I've been in China for 5 days now so far, but there are several things I find rather annoying. If in Malaysia, regardless of how hot it is, we just bear with it, here, the men just go topless. Doesn't matter where it is, on the streets, on the train, at the coffee shop..... hmmmmmmmm, if only those topless men were young, well-built hunks, now that would be a sight for sore eyes.... too bad only mostly the old ones do .

Another thing is their spitting habit. Here, everybody spits, men, women, young girls, they all do it. I can tolerate it when do it on the streets, but when they spit on the bus.... yuck !

Another annoying thing is their smoking habit. Now I'm not surprised why the country releases so much smoke. Look at how they smoke.... everywhere and all the time.... The worst is when they do it in a confined space, i.e bus, buildings. Come to think of it, this sure is related to spitting. I'm not sure how, but I'm sure it's related.

Ok, one more surprising/amusing thing I find in China, is children peeing in the middle of the city while everybody else just looks on.....

And then, it's the communal toilet. If what they say about you getting an eye cyst (ketumbit) everytime you see people taking a dump is true, by now, I probably wouldnt be able to close my eyes 'cos I've seen wayyy to many of them in action .

Last but not least, are the women. If your imagination of Chinese women is of grace and softness, then you are just as twisted as I was before I came here. Here, I keep getting yelled at by them.... maybe that's just they way they talk. I don't know, Some are nice, but those in the cities... adoiiii.... Malaysian Chinese are wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more polite and most importantly, they never spit in public.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lijiang, China

I've just settled into my room here in Ancient Stone Bridge Inn. The room is small, but cute and complete, and at 80yuan, I think it's a bargain.

Ok, now my first impression of Lijiang. It's a theme park!! Except that people actually live in it.... and I'm staying the night in it too . Ok ok, it's not exactly a theme park, it really is a very old town, which explains its appearance. The new town, however, is just like any other modern town, and it's situated on the other side of Lijiang.

The old town is typical of what we watch on Chinese period drama series... the streets are narrow, the weather is cool, the building's made of cobblestone and if you're alone and you try to find your orientation, well, you better go and get some help!

I was extremely lucky! The girl and her family who slept next to me on the weird sleeper bus last nite helped a lot. They were just as lost, looking for their GH, but nonetheless, but confidently she 'pulled' me along with them in search of mine. I didn't get their names, but I'm really hoping to see them again. Ok, I'm gonna get out now. I wanna check out the town before it gets dark.

Saw a Muslim restaurant earlier, need to confirm it. Need to eat !

Monday, September 12, 2005

Kunming, China

Nothing much happened today, bought the bus ticket to Lijiang, now hanging out at Nanjing Story (???), a posh coffee shop (my chocolate milk shake costs 12yuan ok? that's posh by my current standard), waiting for my bus that'll leave at 8pm tonight. It's raining, I'm cold, I'm stranded here..... I'm bored

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Kunming, China

Now, if anybody asks me what my first impression of people of China is... I'd say, I think they're crazy. They spit everywhere, they smoke like chimneys, they throw garbage all around and they stare shamelessly at you and mothers do not mind helping their children pee right in the middle of Jinbi Square, where the poshest of posh hang out.

If that ain't crazy, I don't know what is... but then again, I am not exactly the most rational person alive, thus, I ain't going back yet. Instead, I wandered around Kunming City, visited the Yunnan Provincial Museum, visited a Masjid, had lots of 'sate' which was spicy like hell and dined at a restaurant that was located along the stretch behind Shengxing Supermarket.

Now, I've always wanted to enjoy Chinese food, halal ones are rare and expensive in Malaysia, so I went to China. So there I was, trying to finish the noodles and the dumplings (??) while being entertained by Nasyid songs in Middle Eastern rhythm that was playing next door.

Now who says Chinese food is bland? I don't know what I had came from which part of China but boy, it was so hot and darned spicy, so much so that water dripped out of almost all orifices you can find on my face....hahahaha, yuck !

After I was done, I asked for permission to take a photo of the guys grilling the 'sate'. They refused, instead, one of them offered to take a photo of me with the other guy. I gave him my camera, he even asked me to flash the "V" sign, I did just that. He 'supposedly' took it, heck, he even took a photo of another man who was resting there... I thanked him and left. Later, when I checked my camera, there was no photo, ceh, he obviously operated it wrongly but never mind. I already quietly took one with him in it

Before retiring for the night, I stopped at the massage and sauna center next to my hotel building. I figured, hey, I'm in China, I might as well have a Chinese body massage. After all, it was only 50yuan/45 minutes. Not bad eh... except that the masseuse, unlike the previous ones that I had, was a man ! Aramak, segannya!

Imagine my surprise, when he arrived at the room... embarrassed, I asked if there's a female masseuse, and all I got was a blank look, ok, he obviously did not understand me.... oh, oh well, tawakal je la....

Although it was kinda weird for me. He was professional, well, he should be, he's got the 'technical expert' name tag on. I was lucky no undressing was necessary. He even pulled down my shirt when it accidentally slipped up. And that was by far the best one I've had, yang tak bestnye was he asked for a tip... but since he did a good job, I didn't mind that at all

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Vietnam-China Border

It was 515am that we were dropped at Pho Lou(?). I was scared I'd be the only one there, but thank God, Tom, Nhung and this one couple were there with me.

The train station really screwed up this time. They told us there was a problem with the railway, and hence, we'd have to get off at Pho Lou and a car would be waiting to take us to Lao Cai.

But that was old news, and the railway had been fixed, and there was no car . Furious, the guys started making some calls and in about 30 minutes, a 4-wheel drive arrived.

Despite it being a hassle, I guess it was indeed a blessing in disguise, as the driver sent me directly to the immigration center. But of course, it was also thanks to those stranded with me. I'm grateful that it was them that were stranded with me for they were educated, English-speaking friendly hoteliers who made it all very easy for me.

Right after I crossed the border, I was greeted by the most unhelpful bunch of people. Never mind that they didn't speak English at all, the worst part was that they didn't even care to help, despite my endless pleas. After some confusions, I made it to the bus station and took a bus straight to Kunming.

The journey was long, more than 11 hours in fact and it stopped once for a mere 20 minutes. The roads were bad, they weren't tarred, they were plain red earth. Occasionally, the bus would stop, and the passengers would get off to push aside some big rocks that were blocking our way....huhuhuhu, scary. I was hungry the whole time, survived on one large pear that Tu gave me, rationed it carefully so that I wouldn't have to declare 'darurat' and pig out on what could probably be pork.

630pm, I finished my pear and the bus stopped again. This time, it's for dinner. I was growing nervous about what my tummy might dictate me to consume. I cant go and join that big group and eat at that restaurant, only God knows what they were eating. Still hungry, I looked for some junk food. Couldn't find anything good... matila macam ni, like literally, matilaa !!! bored and HUNGRY, I wandered around, who knows I could be lucky (like that time when the bus stopped on the way to Pai). I walked and walked around the bus, and then I saw some familiar Arabic characters on a signboard. I looked down and saw a small dark kitchen, "eh, just the kitchen? where are the tables?"

I greeted the cook, asked him if everything was halal, "yeah, yeah, muslim, yeah yeah", er "yeah yeah"? eh, I haven't finished my question, and all he kept saying was "yeah yeah", oooookay... I kept pressing on, he kept "yeah yeah-ing" and in the middle of it, I suddenly caught the word "Hui", Oh ok then, I'm going in!

In the kitchen., confused, I pointed to the raw material, and before I knew it, the cook went straight to cooking it.... aramak, do they even know how I want it cooked? whatever la......

In what felt like just 3 minutes, the girl (probably his daughter) motioned for me to go to the adjoining room. There I saw 4 small round tables. One occupied by the lady bus conductor and her friends, one by the cook and his daughter and one by me.And there on my table, a bowl of rice and 2 dishes, one was minced beef and the other some white radish-like thingy. I took a taste, and immediately loved it! I ate and ate like a horse, and suddenly, I heard the bus engine being started up... Oh no I still got a lot more to eat (despite being already full). And so I gave up, that's just too much to eat, I'd have to be a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion to finish it, now I just hope I have enough money to pay for the food. I signaled the conductor to get the bus to wait for me. Instead, she asked the cook to get the total price of my food. Oh ok, that's even better, all the while praying that I'd have enough yuan.

She showed a note from her pouch, kinda asked me to pay that much to the cook. Eh, only 10yuan? I must be dreaming..... hehehe, I smiled, paid, and quickly left, afraid that he will call me back to pay more, but he didn't. So i guess it really was that cheap!! hehehe and thank God for that, I made it to Kunming at 1130pm safe and full .

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hanoi, Vietnam

It's 1 and 1/2 hours 'till departing time, and here I am writing my journal amidst the chaos at the Quy Cap Station. I'm leaving Hanoi tonite, broke but fulfilled.

I didnt go Halong Bay, the reputedly most popular tourist attraction in VN, didnt stop at Hue and am not going to Sapa. Tomorrow, in short, I didnt visit places which are major tourist attraction, but yet I still feel like I got an insight of what makes VN special and interesting, far from what I originally imagined. Although today started really really bad, it nonetheless ended (almost) really really sweet.

Oh, Tu is here..... with food and milk for me.....ahhhhhhh, motherly Tu, ok, be right back !


I checked out early only to find out that I was charged 10% tax on top of the room charges. I was pissed. Then I went along the lake, met the bookseller for the 100th time, got into a miscommunication, and had to buy a book. Again, I was pissed!

But looking at the kid with eyes that began to water and a voice that began to quiver, idiotic as he was (he bought the book from the bookstore thinking I'd buy it from him), I just couldn't bear the thought of ruining his day today. 250k dong is a lot, even for me.... but for him, I know it worths a lot more. And so, after much persuasion from the motorcycle taxi driver that was just happened to be there at that time, and some negotiations, I told him I could only afford to add just a little bit more than the original price of 230k dong. He accepted, after all, 20k dong is always better than a 230k dong loss. And so, I bought it, yeah I'm a softie . Immediately after the transaction, the driver offered to take me around town to run my errands at just 15k dong. I declined, declared myself officially broke and he left... 5 minutes later, I realized that I really should've taken up the offer, penat jalan siout !!!

But I kept on walking nonetheless... and on my way to get my bag at the hotel, somebody suddenly jumped in front of me... "Oh no, it's you again!!!" Great, I cant seem to get rid of the motorcycle driver. Didn't he have work to do? This time, the driver asked me where I was going. I told him that I was gonna get something to drink while waiting for my train. He offered to buy me a drink. Aramak, I don't know this guy, plus I don't have any money to pay for the ride . Told him that I was broke, plus I needed to find a money changer. Again, he offered to take me to those places for free. Aiya... okla, and so, without thinking, I went with him.

At the coffee shop, I borrowed his phone to make some calls and it was also during this time that I got to know him a little better. Apparently, he comes from a poor family in a village far from Hanoi, and he is currently undergoing a cooking class and he rides the motorcycle taxi to make some extra income to cover his tuition fees and daily expenses, which was why he approached me for 2 days straight hoping that I'd take the ride with him.... but since it was a no from me at both times, he figured, he might as well make friends with me. We chatted for a bit then later he took me to the lake to meet his gf.

While we were chatting, suddenly, came 3 figures and sat at the bench beside us. I looked up, saw the Japanese guy and both of us laughed out loud..... hahahahaha. Today has been full of familiar faces... just a couple of hours earlier, I saw him on the street, then in the bank and now at the lake. Only this time, he was flanked by 2 local girls, gatal gak mamat ni!

Also, at around the same time, a man came out of nowhere and sat beside me. This new stranger is a no-nonsense chemical engineer who comes to the lake everyday after work to converse with foreigners in order to improve his English. He was actually a bit boring. Many times, I wanted to turn to Han and his gf or criss-cross a conversation with the Jap guys's group, but boy, he really wanted to talk, and being ever so helpful, I obliged.

We carried our conversation for hours. Came 620pm, Han invited me to join them for dinner. Tired and lazy to explain about my food restriction, I politely declined.

720pm, the engineer excused himself, and the girls with the Jap guy invited me to join them.

Now, if my topics with the engineer were serious; gas, ultrasonic, unemployment etc. The topics with these girls were a lot more fun (these girls talked about animals, puzzles, music, they even sang). Upon joining them, I was posed with a puzzle, one that I've heard a long time ago, but just cant recall the answer. So after several failed attempts, they gave us the answer and we parted as I had a train to catch and Masa, the Jap guy had a plane to catch.

And that was how 3 hours were killed., and that was also how I came to appreciate VN. Many thanks to Han and his gf, the engineer, Huyen, and Masa for making my last day in Hanoi memorable .

And also, thanks to the old lady whom I kept seeing at the train station. We first met at the toilet and started conversing in our own languages, and ended up laughing, and later, at the waiting lounge, I found myself sitting next to, who else, and again, we laughed.... Funny, a day full of coincidences, that's what it was!!!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hanoi, Vietnam

Got a pair of sunglasses made today (I lost the old pair in Hoi An). Was supposed to pick it up at 1130am. I missed it, guess I'll get it tomorrow. Why I missed it? Because Binh got here on time to take me to Tu's house. Oh well, I still got tomorrow.

Lunch today was truly sumptuous. I am sooo touched by Tu's thoughtfulness. She prepared the clams for us because she remembers from Japan that I like it (incidentally, I also had spaghetti vongole the previous nite with Binh, gosh, I must really like it, huh?).

We spent hours having lunch and catching up on old stories that it made me wonder about the duration of Binh's lunch break. He was out for almost 3 1/2 hours, and when I asked him about it, all I got was "no problem". Ok, whatever, if anything happens, don't tell me i didn't remind you.

He left at around 230pm for work, leaving me a bit lost while Tu was kinda busy with her house chores. Ok ok, I kinda offered to help, but she didn't let me. Instead, she offered me Internet access which I graciously accepted.

After I was done with my little research thingy, Tu took me around Hanoi to some of the most bizarre sights, sounds and smell that I've never read about Hanoi..... well, maybe I missed it, I dunno, maybe, but maybe not too many people know about it.

First, we went to Cho Hom Market. The market houses basically everything, from perishable to clothes to food etc. I tried the snail-looking creatures, tasted like 'siput sedut', except that no sucking was required, thank God. There's no way I'm sucking in public, instead, the flesh has to be extracted with this very sharp metal which looked like a prehistoric weapon. After that, we had some deserts which consisted of some beans, corns, coconut flesh etc, much like our very own ABC.

We also visited the nite market, the old pagoda at the west market, the area around Cho Hom and most of the time, we just rode the bike around town and felt the wind blowing in our faces.

Tonite, unlike last nite, is extremely busy. Kids shopping for toys, young couples spending time around the lakes, lion dances on the street.... busy, chaotic even, but fun.

I love going to market, I love meeting the normal people, the people who are not so affected by what they watch on MTV. I love going to malls too. I live for that (sometimes....hehehehe), but when I'm outside Malaysia, malls are the last thing I wanna see. They're the same everywhere in the world, to me at least.

Therefore, when Tu took me to the market, it was as though she could read my mind. She showed me things that are so local that if I were on my own, I'd never discover them. Introduced me fruits that tasted so great I wish I could bring them back to Malaysia.

In short, I really enjoyed the time I spent with her. She not only guided me around town, but she also 'protected' me and held my hand the whole time there. I guess that's the advantages of having a mature lady as a friend, she's more knowledgeable, has more experience and because she's a mother, she's extremely thoughtful and caring. Her hospitality was just so endearing that it almost made me ask for more. But I hate to be a burden, so i tried my best not to let her do everything that she offered. Can you believe that she insisted on buying can food for fear that I might find it difficult to get halal food at my next destination? Gosh, you just gotta love this woman. I know I do, and I'm extremely grateful that we're friends.

Before we parted, i tried my best to express my gratitude, and her response was simply that she was being herself... a Vietnamese, and suddenly, it all started to become very clear to me.

Before coming to Vietnam, I admit that I was a bit nervous. The western media painted storied often so distorted that u'd get scared for nothing, thus I wanted to leave it asap. However, the longer I spent my time there, the more I was starting to fall in love with it. Yes, the beaches are pretty, the food is great, but I personally think that in Vietnam, it's the people that makes it very very special.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hanoi, Vietnam

Today, I managed to access the Internet and log on to YM. Buzzed some friends. Khairold asked if I've found any French-speaking Vietnamese.... wow, he knows VN's history, I'm impressed. Also got tons of messages from Tu and Binh. And Kim kept on reminding to give them a call, yeah yeah, I know, but just give me some time, I just got here. I just arrived this morning. And now that I'm a big city, I got some errands to run.

And so I did, went to the post office, also went to check out the currency exchange. Had my lunch, and only after I contacted Tu. Within minutes after I made the call, Binh arrived at my hotel and later Tu. We hanged out for while, then Tu left as she had to go home early.

So for the nite, Binh was my tourist guide.... we just basically walked around the lake, and also visited the Trang Tien Plaza. Earlier today, I had already walked around the lake to run some errands and by this time, I swear I could walk around with my eyes closed .

But of course, it'd be stupid for me to do that 'cos the city is so full of motorcycles, it's be crazy to even attempt it. I was dead tired, but I fought to keep myself awake, after all, it's not like I'm in Hanoi with Binh everyday.

So after taking a walk around the lake. Btw, Hanoi is sooooo full of lakes (thank God this was one of the smaller ones), we went for a drink and called it a night.