Dallas

June 22, 2010 at 1:16 am | Posted in usa | Leave a comment

So, the trip is nearly over, but not without a last stop in Dallas (we had to stop through fliht-wise, but were excited to see texas briefly). We were only here for one day and we didn’t really do much except for get lost and accumulate over $20 worth of toll charges. It seemed like every road we went on was a toll, so getting lost and travelling up the same road 4 times wasn’t the smartest move.

This was my first taste of texas, and we both really wanted to try mexican food from texas. it was ok but im sure it’s better in mexico. As far as the city goes, it was just a big american city with nothing really that special to offer. agreed. my thoughts on dallas: why didn’t we just stay in hawaii?

Dallas’ biggest claim to fame is unfortunately the place where JFK was shot. The book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald took the shot has now been turned into a museum celebrating his life in office and also looking at the assassination and the investigation afterwards. It was interesting to see that the museum did recognise the conspiracy theories and gave arguments for and against. yep, the museum was really well done and the highlight of dallas in my opinion (oh, minus seeing my pals of course).

Some of the buildings were cool to look at. Dallas was used as the setting for a few classic 80’s movies because of the futuristic look of some of the buildings. hudson really enjoyed taking loads of pics of this one building that was in an arnie film. i didn’t get it. (actually it was robocop)

The book depository

The infamous grassy knoll

Well, the trip is over. can’t say we went out on a bang with dallas, more of a dud. at least it made us eager to get to D.C.??? bye-bye trip. bye-bye dirty clothes. bye-bye sketchy toilets. bye-bye exotic beers. bye-bye exotic fluffsters. bye-bye lonely planet. bye-bye blog.

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Hawaii

June 22, 2010 at 1:15 am | Posted in usa | Leave a comment

I was kind of bummed to be heading back to the states, but luckily, hawaii doesn’t really count as the usa. we flew into honolulu, Oahu and took a three hour bus adventure to get to the north shore.

after extensive searching on craigslist we had found an amazing house near sunset beach and managed to convince the owner to give us a special rate.

the north shore is absolutely beautiful, especially the “8 mile miracle” where we stayed. the 8 mile is (obviously) 8 miles of beautiful beaches famous for both their surf and lack of tourists – the beaches include pipeline, sunset beach, Haleiwa, rocky point and a few others. the pic above is a view from the deck of our house.

we stayed in this cool surf house and luckily had the whole thing to ourselves. it was so nice and had gorgeous views (and a chill neighbor that gave us bikes and a car for a day)… a very nice way to ease back into the states. everyday in hawaii was so relaxing and wonderful. the beaches near us can get a little packed during winter (some of the main tournaments are held here) when the waves reach 30 feet, but this time of year we often had the to ourselves.

the water was clear and the waves were usually big – it was funny that there are two breaks. one is far out and surfable and one is extremely close to shore and makes the water deep just a few feet out.

even though we were only a few feet out, the waves were huge and so powerful that they would knock you off your feet, fun to splash around in though.

this is the beach that is right in front of our house. so pretty. it was really nice to be able to bike to all the nearby beaches and stores (except for the first day where we had to walk to the store… but i guess 2 miles of walking to get some food isn’t too bad when you’re in hawaii).

some church entranceway that really entranced hudson?!?

i believe this beach is called rocky point. the water was super smooth (although this is supposedly where a huge surf competition is held in the winter). the big draw here is obviously the amazing rock that sticks right out of the water. it was awesome to climb up and jump off (that’s a stranger doing the flip…) and reminded me of kloofing in africa and waterfall jumping in laos. the water was so clear you could see the bottom, which was nice. it was also fun to practive flipping off the lower rock.

It was great fun jumping off the rocks and loads of the locals do it. This one teenager was nervous before doing a backflip off the rock, so Kelly gave him a bit of encouragement (she gave him some shit) and he did it, unfortunately he flopped on his stomach and face and wasn’t happy.

the bus system here was really good, especially when we came across a nice driver that kept giving us free passes. everyone is chill in hawaii. on this one bus ride a few guys were playing their ukeleles and singing in the back. i think they should get to ride free.

we’re pretty cute, huh?

one day our funny neighbor/house manager lent us her car (with a few CDs of jack johnson who supposedly lives in the neighborhood). we took off and saw quite a bit of the island. i still like north shore the best.

this mountain looked kinda cool. there were also really cool little seafood shacks everywhere that looked tasty, but $12 for a sandwich just seemed to pricey after our days of cheap asian food.

the view from our house really was amazing and the evening breeze made the deck a perfect place to hang out.

we contemplated staying in hawaii longer. like for a couple months. would’ve been so nice and we should have done it, but really i think we just didn’t want the trip to end.

We were both so sad on our last day and just didn’t want to leave, to be honest who would, we had an amazing house with an amazing beach just minutes away, and it was so relaxing.

hawaii. would love to go back. just as amazing as you think it’s gonna be. why don’t we  live there?

After we do our second world trip, that could be an idea

Tokyo Part 2

June 17, 2010 at 3:58 am | Posted in Japan | Leave a comment

One of the things that we both wanted to do was see some sumo. A sumo tournament lasts for about a month and consists of each wrestler competing in 17 bouts (one a day); the wrestler with the best record at the end of the tournament is crowned the yokozuna. These bouts last about 5 seconds and involve each guy trying to push the other outside of the ring. We went for the whole day and got to see a wide range of abilities, from juniors to amateurs to pros; they were all pretty big though. It was especially fun when the real big guys fought and the crowd got behind them.

The opening ceremony. aren’t their outfits crazy?

this was later on in the day when the crowd really started picking up – earlier in the morning we were able to go right down in front. i’m usually not a huge sports fan, but watching sumo really was so much fun. we got to see lots of bouts and there’s a nice rhythm to the stretching, stomping and chalk(?) throwing the wrestlers ritualisticly go through before fighting.

Kelly was desperate for a picture with one of these guys, but it took a bit of courage for her to go up and ask. she was a little disappointed that these guys weren’t fatter. yes, they were really nice about taking the picture, but i was hoping they’d ham it up a bit – maybe pick me up over their heads or something. oh well.

they did wear traditional kimonos and wooden flip-flop type shoes that were cool to see. the patterns and colors of each wrestler’s kimono has symbolism and is made especially for him.

the

The Tsukiji fish market is the biggest in the world. This market was crazy and not set up for tourists even though many go. There are large carts moving around and nearly plowed us down a couple of times. I guess you can’t blame the guys for not slowing down as they have a job to do. we also had to dodge giant fish heads and fishmongers wielding humongous knives.

there was every type of seafood you can imagine (and others i had never heard of). individuals can buy whatever, but there is also a wholesale auction that goes on every morning for restaurants, etc. We were bummed that tourists can’t really go inside the auction, but after seeing the market, it’s definitely for the best.

They had loads of fish there and some of them were huge. this tuna would of been great to eat, but the majority of the large ones go to auction and get sold for big bucks.

while the inner market is all about fish, guts and insanity, the outer market is more sedate and sells fish that is packaged and on a smaller scale. there are also small (but amazing) sushi stalls, knive and kitchen gear stores and other cool little delicacies.

These are the knives/swords used to hack up some of the beasts. wouldn’t it be cool to slice of a giant tuna head with one of these swords?

we had to try some sushi. it was superb. definitely the freshest fish possible prepared by the best sushi chefs in the world.

like many japanese professionals, the sushi chefs seemed to take a lot of pride in their work.

these hand-crafted knives are so cool. they ain’t cheap, but i couldn’t resist buying one for my dad who loves to cook.

after the market and sushi, we wandered around and found some gardens. like in suzhou, china, there are fees to get into the gardens. we found a cheap one and proceeded to take a two hour nap. a funny thing about tokyo, which you can see in this picture (above), is that opposites constantly clash together. whether it’s eastern/western, old/new, or nature/city like in this picture, there are interesting juxtapositions all over tokyo.

We went to yoygi park on sunday – this is the weekend hangout for lots of the tokyo youth.

free hugs? i think these guys are the equivalent of american hipsters. there is also a big trend in japan (and china and hong kong) of girls dressing up in a goth/lolita combo, complete with theatrical makeup. some of the fashion i saw in tokyo was over the top, but very cool and refreshing to see. both guys and girls put together some crazy combos and don’t take fashion too seriously.

Japanese greasers. i dont really know what these guys were about. i didn’t really get it.

we also walked around the Roppongi area, which is really posh and known for good night-life. there were some cool shops and bars; the more you got off the main drag, the cooler the environment became.

nice view in the Roppongi area.

Eating at our local hangout. this local street in our neighborhood was such a good find. we stayed a bit out of the city in the Shinagawa area, which meant riding the expensive subway everyday (or very cheap if you pretend to be ignorant foreigners). however, our neighborhood had some good food places and bars and was nice to walk around. also our room was nice and pretty cheap by tokyo standards.

This car was a prototype for nissan. I don’t know whether it will ever reach the market, but the coolest feature was the fact that the middle section swivelled round so that you never have to reverse.

there is a big contemorary art museum near the imperial palace, but there are also a few smaller museums all over the city. i went to one of these and had a lovely time. more of a large gallery than museum, there were several exhibits – i thought the traditional japanese screens were the most beautiful.

the museum also contained a large garden, which was really it’s best feature. this boat (maybe you’d call it a boat sculpture?) is just one of the art pieces to be found when you walk around the garden.

the garden itself was really beautiful and colorful.

eating a pauper snack of cup-noodles on the street curb.

Tokyo Part 1

June 17, 2010 at 3:57 am | Posted in Japan | Leave a comment

When we booked the tickets, Japan was one of the countries I found to be most intriguing and I’d wanted to go here for a long time. The only problem was that it is one of the most expensive countries in the world and being one of our final destinations meant we were pretty low on cash. So, unfortunately we decided that a week in Tokyo would be a good start and hopefully we’ll return and travel around Japan at a later time.

Our first impression of Japan. these toilets are crazy and have a lot of features. I must have pressed a female button at one point as it gave me a bit of a shock. My favourite feature has to be to the fake sounds available to hide any real sounds.

yes, i (kelly) have seen so many nasty toilets on the trip. sometimes they were so horrendous i wanted to take a picture as proof, but i decided that would be disgusting. however, i just couldn’t resist taking a pic of a nice toilet.

while we were walking around the outside of the Imperial Palace gardens, i spotted a photo shoot going on with the model dressed in traditional geisha clothing. so beautiful. i was really interested in the geisha culture, but it seems that nowadays, most geisha teahouses are either super touristy or more like red-light districts.

the imperial palace gardens are cool to walk around, but the palace isn’t actually located here. there are some nice pathways, buildings and a really pretty garden.

the japanese seem just as fanatical about gardens with fish-filled ponds and peaceful pathways as the chinese were.

since japan was our last country before heading back into the U.S., we took loads of pictures.

Yasukuni shrine is a shrine dedicated to all that lost their lives in battle.

There is also a section for all the animals that lost their lives in battle. At first glance we thought people had left their rubbish at the base of the sculptures, but then we realized the water bottles and bits of food are meant as offerings to the animals. There are dog, horse, and bird monuments.

another quiet little garden near the shrine.

The busiest crossing in the world. it was so much fun to see the main shopping district, but we were a little overwhelmed.

really cool billboards everywhere.

We found a great little sushi stall near to our hotel down a sidestreet. we enjoyed numerous snacks at this little sunny corner. there is also a deep-fried stall with amazing chicken and a czech cook – a combo that really won over hudson.

colorful flags outside of the sumo complex. we also went to the tokyo museum that is nearby. the museum is kind of a strange mix of things, but we enjoyed it.

samurai costume from the tokyo museum

samurai swords

japanese lantern. there is an entire traditional japanese building inside the museum.

i think this style of japanese art is really lovely, especially the different patterns.

The japanese have a really unhealthy fascination with anime cartoons. These cartoons are dodgy to say the least and are focused on young-looking girls who have these enormous breasts. There are loads of shops selling all these magazines and girls dress up on the street to advertise them. it was really disturbing.

akhibara is tokyo’s famous electronic town where there are hundreds of shops selling absolutely everything electronic. we thought we’d see some great deals here, but the prices are similar to the U.S. – it’s more the selection that is uncomparable.

there are also these giant arcades where the japanese play video games; it would be a 12 year old’s dream. yes, we went into one of these arcades and it was ridicuous. there are at least 7 stories high and some floors had themes. i saw one strung-out gamer that had passed out right in his chair. weirdos.

we had a nice walk through the shopping district. there is a nice lake nearby as well. although tokyo seems bigger, busier and more hi-tech than the large chinese cities, it also seemed more accessible. more of the japanese knew english and in many ways the city of more westernized than chinese cities. i was reminded of nyc and felt at ease walking around. would have been nice to compare tokyo to smaller japanese towns, but we’ll have to do that another time.

it was nice that there is a pretty lake and park right in the city.

even in downtown/shopping district, there are a bunch of cool streets to get lost in. this street looked cool, but as we walked down we realized it was mostly restaurants and dirty comic/porn type places.

Hangzhou

June 17, 2010 at 2:19 am | Posted in China | Leave a comment

when we first decided about the trip, i emailed my friend Adam because he lives in china. in the email i asked about visiting his “little town.” well, now i know his little town, Hanzhou, is a huge city of 4 million people and the center of the Zhejiang province. luckily, hangzhou is an easy train ride from shangahi. Hangzhou is just as beautiful as Adam described and it was so fun to see china with a local (well, sort of a local). adam was able to fill us in on so much of the cultural stuff that we couldn’t quite grasp by ourselves and he and his friend even cooked us a homemade meal (hadn’t had one in a few months). i was so happy to see how a foreigner lives in china and the differences between traveling through and making a life for yourself.

one of the most beautiful places in hangzhou is around the West lake. the lake is huge an surrounded by gardens and pathways.

one day adam took us on a hike (stairs were on one side of the “mountain”). the hike was lovely and the views from the top were great. well, except for all the clouds.

While we were roaming around on the top of the mountain, some passersby stopped to chat. it was really crazy watching adam interacting with them – he’s only been in china a year or so and already has a good grasp on the language. we found china the most difficult country for communicating – many people didn’t know any english and only some were good about playing the charade game. it was nice to see how excited people got when the talked to westerners that actually knew the chinese language.

note the very asian looking dogs. all dogs in china look chinese. i couldn’t get enough of these fluffsters. they were panting like crazy from the hike.

we went out for a great night with some of adam’s pals. saw quite a few different bars and stuff and had a lot of fun. before the last stop, we had some late night food in a random alleyway. we made friends with all the other drunks that were scarfing down food. they loved posing for the camera.

could have been the beer talking, but the food was delicious. there were just a few street stalls and we got amazing noodles, potatoes and chicken. and we made friends with one of the cooks.

we went to some great westerner bars, but hudson and i wanted to experience a chinese bar so adam and his pals took us to one latenight. it was absolutely hilarious. they played ridiculous music and everyone (us included) played this crazy dice game and drank towers of beer. at one point adam ended up singing on stage. i don’t care what people say, i like the way those chinese guys party. hilarious. i wanna bring that dice drinking game back to the US. if only i could remember how to play…

besides the late night food, adam took us to so many great places to eat. our favorites were two tiny little restaurants right on adam’s road. he lived in a very chinese neighborhood with little fruit stands and winding roads. in this tiny one-room place (pic above) a guy stood beside our table and hand-made delicious noodles.

so tasty.

another days we went on a bike ride through many of the gardens in hangzhou. very beautiful and peaceful. it was nice that there are so many foot bridges connecting everything.

we stopped a lot on the bike ride and had a look around. one place was the Longjing (Dragon Well) tea fields (pic above). amid the tea fields is a cool restaurant/tea house that is right on the water and very lovely.

hangzhou is so peaceful and lovely. staying with adam made me realize how cool it could be to live in china.

Shanghai Expo 2010

June 17, 2010 at 2:15 am | Posted in China | Leave a comment

We happened to be in shanghai for the expo so we thought we’d take a look. Years ago, world fairs were big business and featured state of the art engineering, examples being Crystal palace in 1851 (with lots of new-age industrial machinery) and Chicago in 1893 (with the first ferris wheel). So many countries were represented, but it was obvious which countries had put money and thought towards their respective pavilions.

The chinese made a huge deal of this expo and had poured millions into the advertising and construction of their pavilion. The Chinese were really excited about it so the queue for their pavilion was absolutely huge – we decided to skip it but i would (maybe harshly) predict some blatant chinese propaganda. Some of the pavilions were genuinely interesting but the majority of them were nothing special. I think kelly summed it up in one of her frequent inspirational speeches when she said that before the internet the fair must have been fascinating when all these random countries came together and showed off all their wonderful stuff. Nowadays, you can find out anything about any country (except North Korea) by looking on the web. (kelly: i didn’t quite say that. i think traveling around to different countries is another good way to learn about them…)

The chinese pavilion (above). We visited the expo on the 2nd day of opening so the place was packed and the chinese pavilion would have taken up about 3 hours of queuing to get in, so we missed out.

South korean pavilion

The finnish pavilion was one of the coolest and most enjoyable. each pavilion was drastically different. some were really amazing feats of architecture and thinking while others were just blocky buildings. we found that the outsides of some buildings were more interesting than their interiors (see below…).

this is an image from inside the finnish pavilion, which was my favorite interior. the pavilion gave a clear feeling of what finland might be like and was designed brilliantly. there were interactive cameras that were fun and allowed you to later see yourself floating on the walls – a lot of the pavillions we saw didn’t have much interactivity so this was nice. the finnish pavilion also had a virtual scrapbook type thing that took your pic and put a sight from your own country in the background. just fun stuff. also, they showcased cool design pieces like technology, clothes, kitchen design, lighting, etc. maybe it’s just because i like design, but i feel that showing this kind of thing is much more interesting and relevant to a world expo than showing cheesy postcard type stuff (saudi arabia) or small museum exhibits (many smaller countries).

One of my favourite designs was croatia – simple but effective

A piece of irony from the north koreans – it was closed

estonia exterior. pretty cool.

The interior of the estonian pavilion was really weird. there were just loads of humungous piggy banks scattered around. it was wasted on me. well i(kelly) didn’t waste the opportunity for an awkward photo with mike brennan.

The usa clan walking past the boring USA pavilion. GO TRIBE! GO USA!

We queued up for 2 hours to see the saudi arabian pavilion. It had the worlds largest screen inside which showed a promotional video that was not really worth seeing. it also featured a human conveyer belt that was equally unimpressive. at least the outside of the building looked cool. oh, and the brilliant w&m USA kids brought a deck of cards. it’s amazing how fast 2 hours of waiting in the heat surrounded by curious asians can go when you’re playing asshole.

the giant screen and conveyer belt. wow.

The prize for the most intriguing piece of architecture went to the british pavilion. yes, this pic doesn’t really do the building justice. the symetrical dome shaped structure was made up of tons of long (5 ft?) needles. the needles poked from inside to outside. during the day, the needles filtered light into the building, which saves energy and is just cool. at night, light from inside shines through the needles so that the structure glows. i think this building did an amazing job of showing of smart design and cool technology while still looking understated and very british. too bad the line was too long to wait in – i would have loved to check out the exhibition inside.

The best thing about the expo was the architecture on offer. It was fun to just walk round and see some of the crazy buildings, but the exhibitions themselves were not as inspiring as they could have been. We tried to think of ways to improve future fairs but the best we could come up with was for every country to have a selection of their best beers available to try. also, there were so many dull exhibitions (esp compared to the cool exteriors) that we got a bit disheartened. or maybe we’re just spoiled americans. glad we went though.

Shanghai

June 17, 2010 at 2:09 am | Posted in China | Leave a comment

Shanghai is a huge city which is by far the most westernised chinese city. we stayed in the french concession, which is fairly chilled out for shanghai, but still has some good nightlife and is convenient. we were about a 40 minute walk from people’s square, which is the center of shanghai and is very commercialized and bustling.

yes, shanghai is very modern, especially with all of it’s architecture. I also think shanghai was especially amped up because of the world expo.

Standing on the bund in front of the pudong skyline. the wangpu river separates the two sides. the bund is a very old and famous area along the river with bars, shops and a lovely walkway (and loads of tourists). the pudong side actually has more impressive buildings in my open, including the Jinmao tower (the one with the spheres).

shanghai world financial centre – third tallest skyscraper in the world. we dubbed this building “the bottle opener” – from this angle you can just barely see why.

Shanghai museum had some interesting exhibits. Chinese calligraphy always looks impressive to me.  yes, this museum had a lot of cool stuff and was a bit overwhelming. i(kelly) really enjoyed the furniture sections.

We met Kitty in India. The crazy girl had travelled solo and survived all the constant hastles. She kindly took us on a day tour of Shanghai. the pic above is on the post office’s roof. kitty convinced the guards that we were important foreigners and they escorted us onto the roof for some great views. probably the best bit of the post office museum, which had some odd exhibits.

We started off our day of kitty fun with a monster chinese lunch. This included cold alcoholic rice soup (good), glazed fattypork, marinated tofu, zucchini, spicy beef and noodles, broccoli with crab sauce, rice, tea, more soup and loads more. We were both absolutely stuffed. why didn’t we take pics?! thanks to my friends who were passing through shanghai at the same time, we were a bit hungover for our day of fun with kitty so lunch was really insane. not only was there enough food for 10 people, i didn’t realize the soup was alcoholic until I downed a huge spoonful.

after our feast of a lunch, kitty took us all over. we went yuyuan gardens near the old city, shanghai’s bazaar, the post office museum, old street, Xintiandi and people’s square. the pic above is from the gardens where there were cool zig-zag bridges and lots of fish  in the ponds.

kitty also enlightened us about why chinese girls give the peace sign (and do other staged poses) in pics. there are five main poses: hold one finger up by your mouth and do a do a pouty face; hold a peace sign up beside your face and smile (see pic); hold 3 fingers beside your face and look confused (this means you’re confused about a problem – i think it’s the least popular pose); hold 4 fingers palm down underneath your chin and look pensive (you are solving the problem); hold 5 fingers up like you’re waving and look happy (you have solved the problem!). try doing these poses in succession. they are really fun. i can see why the chinese like to pose so much.

This guy is a shanghai legend; his booth is in the bazzar. He conducts some sort of puppet show where he tells jokes (in chinese, so completely lost on us). There were plenty of jealous people when we got our picture taken. there are these little peep holes that each person looks through; you see a screen that is kind of comic book/flip book style and corresponds to the guy’s jokes. pretty funny even without the jokes i have to say.

Yuyuan gardens is a tranquil place with historical chinese architecture.

i was struggling with the combo of strange chinese feast and hangover in this pic, but the gardens made me feel better.

The garden scenery rivalled the gardens of suzhou.

A hotel that overlooks the outside pond and bridges.

Kitty took us down a historic chinese street. we went into a little museum with communist propaganda and kitty proudly told us how she has never become of member of the communist party. by not being a member, it can be difficult to get scholarships, entrance into schools and even jobs… kitty’s a real minx though, so don’t worry about her.

kitty took us to Xintiandi, which is an area near people’s square with loads of trendy and quirky bars and restaurants. i really liked this area because it was quaint and cozy yet modern and fun. the red bas-relief type thing in the pic above was over some entrance way in this area – we couldn’t quite understand why kitty was pointing it out to us, but later on we saw it on a t.v. show so it must have some great importance.

Another day we went to the arts district called Taikand art center. this building was covered in wire mesh to create textured leaves. hudson just sat on a patch of grass and read while i walked around. i really loved this area because of the teeny tiny passageways and shops selling local designers. there was one local shoe shop that was really cool. the best art galleries were the photography ones, although there was an artist who painted using her fingers as brushes – hudson really liked that. in addition to lots of cool little stores and galleries, there are many tiny bars and restaurants that looked amazing (if overpriced).

My favourite thing about shanghai was the poster propaganda museum. The museum is located in the bottom of a set of flats, and was a real random find. The museum contains over 2000 posters from the Mao era (1949-79). they are fascinating and really funny to see. The US took a hammering at the time (for obvious reasons) and the Brits also weren’t the most popular.
some of the woodcut posters are really nice. many of them use obvious symbolism or no symbolism at all – there was also not as technique as i was hoping for, but still some cool posters mixed in.

Suzhou

June 17, 2010 at 2:08 am | Posted in China | Leave a comment

Suzhou is referred to as the ‘venice of the east’ with its famous canals and exquisite gardens. Suzhou was a relaxing city to walk around. we stayed right near a big shopping area with loads of shops and restaurants. all of the eating options were a big novelty for us and we really took advantage. i had a burger at TGI fridays (which is really embarrassing), but i have to admit, it tasted amazing at the time. we also ate a lot of chinese food, including hotpots that were tasty. hudson loved them. there was no english anywhere, but the waitstaff had fun trying to help us order and laughed when hudson ate a whole head of lettuce raw instead of cooking it first. they also freaked out when i tried to eat my beef too rare.

pretty shopping lanes, the famous gardens and small canals were just a short walk from where we stayed.

spending the day walking and relaxing by the canals is what makes suzhou a big tourist attraction. the canals are lovely; they’re flanked by little chinese shops and tiny eateries.

suzhou is best known for the gardens. since the entrance fees are high, we just went to a few. a free one, below, is large and well-mapped out with areas for group dancing (seriously) and yoga.

this cozy garden is based around a pond. there were a few amateur artists around painting.

we spent a few afternoons just relaxing in the suzhou gardens, they were so pretty that even my grandma would be jealous (hudson’s grandma, although her garden is very pretty).

this garden area also contained a few small buildings that had cool windows and wise chinese sayings. very calming.

kelly’s theory is that all the dogs in china look asian – i just thought this one was ugly

Suzhou is also surrounded by beautiful little canal towns. We had a trip to Luzhi and spent the day enjoying the canals and alleyways. the alleys and canals are intricate and fun to get lost in. there were also no cheesy boatrides like in venice, which was nice.

i thought suzhou was a great city to spend several days. it was nice to see a different side of china. it was also nice to walk from a secluded, ancient garden to a row of posh little dress shops all in the same afternoon. in general, china isn’t religious at all. however, it seemed that many people went to the gardens to meditate or just be calm and collect their thoughts – it was a nice alternative to other parts of asia that are highly religious.

a chinese tour bus – definitely up there with the quality of the indian buses

Nanjing

June 7, 2010 at 2:56 am | Posted in China | Leave a comment

Nanjing was the former capital of china until 1949. It still remains a hugely important city with over 5 million residents.

While Nanjing has a memorable museum and a couple other landmarks, the city wasn’t amazing to walk around. much of the city center is full of chains and malls. we stayed at an okay hotel on the outskirts that was in a neighborhood of boring shops and horrible food choices. we experienced our first chinese grocery store and were not impressed. besides the produce section, it was nearly impossible to find much that was appetizing. one night we found this restaurant that looked okay and managed to order what we thought was sweet & sour something (pork? chicken?) by pointing. When the dish arrived it looked amazing and we were starving. we tucked in only to realize with the first bite that we had ordered a plate of cartilage chunks. we never really found out if the chinese break it up with their teeth or just suck it and spit it out. after trying in earnest to deal with the cartilage, i ended up eating a chocolate bar for dinner.

crazy chinese ice lollies – pea flavour and sweetcorn flavour. They looked pretty awful but we did see plenty of chinese kids munching away. yes, these popsicles seem like the ultimate mean trick to kids everywhere.

we wandered through the Confucian Shrine area that includes a lovely canal. the shrine has been rennovated (or something) and is too cheesy to bother with, but the canals were kind of picturesque.

I had just munched some free* haribo bears, hence my big smile.

Nanjing is probably most famous for the massacre of approximately 300,000 chinese civilians by japanese troops in 1937. The museum was really interesting and included some graphic photographs from the massacre. One of the most interesting exhibits of the museum was the testimonies of chinese and the japanese people from the time. this museum was well-designed and gave off a grave and chilling feeling.

Nanjing’s city wall was the longest ever built. yes, true. hudson got very excited about this wall, although it just looked like an overpass to me.

the old ming palace ruins. a great place to watch public, group dancing or individuals practicing yoga and meditating.

Beijing

June 7, 2010 at 2:24 am | Posted in China | Leave a comment

After a westernized taste of China (Hong Kong), it was now time to experience proper china. China only really opened up to visitors in the late 70’s, so it isn’t surprising that it was not as tourist friendly as some of our other countries. The first thing that struck us was that only a tiny minority of people speak english. this made for plenty of awkward hand gestures and charades. ordering food in restaurants was a real struggle unless they had a picture menu – even then, specifically with a certain case of chunks of cartilage disguised as delicious pork, ordering could be a disastrous guessing game.

besides the difficulty in food and directions, i was a little overwhelmed by the change in culture. HK is so westernized compared to china. the chinese people also seemed very different(in general, more conservative and reserved) and the fact that we were in a communist society was evident. oh, the mass public transport is amazingly clean, easy and cheap. yay. and instead of rickshaws, there are little refrigerator cars.

We attempted to get a lift in one on a horrendously rainy day but it completely backfired. For a start our driver was a nut, he said he understood where we wanted to go (from the chinese word which took ages to write down) but we negotiated a price and then he took us 100 metres down the street and started babbling absolute rubbish to us, after a while we eventually got out but he continued to follow us up the street and shouting crazy things at us, im sure he put a curse on us both.

we went to the olympic village one day and were so impressed by the buildings.

The birds nest – the olympic stadium. the nest is definitely the most impressive of all the architecture.

i also noticed this criss-cross patterns in window panes and a few other non-olympic related chinese designs. the olympic building for swimming is cool too – it’s exterior is covered in translucent blue 3-dimensional bubbles. the interior views are even more amazing.

Tiananmen square – sight of the 1989 protest

the forbidden city is also on Tiananmen square. it’s a real hub of cultural attractions. it’s also the place where a couple tried to scam us according to hudson (or maybe they were just being nice as i thought).

One of the main tourist attractions in Beijing is the imperial palace (the forbidden city). It was home to the emperors of the ming and qing dynasty for almost 500 years. personally, i thought the forbidden city sounds a lot more intriguing than it actually is. that being said, the peaked roofs and red walls are the epitome of chinese architecture and very pleasing to the eye. the historical bits are also interesting and bring the interiors to life.

there are huge cauldrons like this one all over the forbidden city. they were originally kept full of water (and covered in blankets during cold months) in case of fire. men would have to grab those huge bastards and lug them to the fire. i think this historical tidbit makes the cauldrons much more exciting.

The forbidden city has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site in order to preserve the historical chinese architecture. in addition to the peaked roofs everywhere, there is also a lovely fish pond (fish ponds are big in china) and a mountain (um, really just a hill) that is man-made out of chunks of rock.

The chinese military museum – like the majority of chinese museums, a blatant piece of propaganda

The beijing streets were fun to walk around. yeah hudson, i guess they were, except that it was very confusing as there were no english signs and each chinese person we asked pointed us in a different direction.

the streets around where we stayed were actually fun though. we stayed in the hutong area; the hutong is basically a neighborhood that contains old buildings on intricately laid-out streets and alleys. surprisingly, you couldn’t really get lost because all of the streets ran together – you were bound to hit upon something recognizable eventually. the hutong is full of families and everyday people, shops, little restaurants. there is even a park (um a big space of asphalt) where kids and adults played games and badminton. the asphalt park is nicer than it sounds.

We couldn’t visit Beijing and not venture to the great wall. We had heard that the wall could be somewhat of a tourist circus at times so we picked a not-so-touristy place to appreciate a more realistic view of the great wall. It also happened to be raining so there was nobody in sight. well, nobody except for the person that took this picture of us.

The wall was so steep in some places, it was a real struggle to climb. We were thinking about doing a 12km hike along the wall; i’m glad we didn’t, would have killed us. (kelly: agreed).

I really enjoyed seeing the great wall, it went for miles and it was amazing to think that the chinese built this over all the hills.
yes, i (kelly) am also glad. before seeing the wall, i wasn’t too hyped up: just a wall that took forever to build that never ended up serving much of a purpose. however, the wall is an amazing human feat and affords so many cool views. i guess the wall is kind of cool after all.

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