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The China Syndrome

Okay, that title doesn’t really mean anything, but cheers to those who understand the reference.

Blogging today from Shanghai.  I arrived last night on a flight from Yichang.  Yichang is the main disembarkation point for Yangtze River cruises and I had a fabulous time on the President 6- Yangtze Paradise- 3 nights and 2 days, starting in Chongqing (another amusing stroll down memory lane when thinking of the canned Chinese food we used to eat which I think was called called Chungking express- oops that was a major diversion).

This was my third flight in China.  I had originally planned to spend 3 months in China, but got sidetracked in SE Asia and finally made it into China with only 3 plus weeks left before my prebooked July 16 flight back to Bangkok (which I am now trying to change).  This was a big mistake because China is huge! and has enough interesting tourist sites to fill up 3 months easy.  I am down to the bare minimum of stops and flying around to save time.  This does not necessarily work because most flights seem to be delayed for reasons unexplained to the flying public.  (I am sure they don’t provide an explanation in English, but from the looks of my fellow passengers, I am reasonably sure no explanation is given in Chinese either.)  My flight yesterday took off on time (although some of my fellow cruise passengers, whose flights were scheduled to leave earlier than mine, were still waiting for news on their flights at the time I boarded).  However, we were scheduled to fly into Pudong Airport and 10 minutes before landing they announced (in Chinese only) that we would be landing in Hongqiao instead.  (I learned this when everybody started groaning and the kind woman next to me translated.)  This was of no moment to me, and perhaps was a bit better for me because it is closer to the center of the city, but it was pretty bad news for much of the plane.  E.g., the kind woman next to me whose car was at Pudong.  Or the French expats who had a connecting flight to catch and 2 babies in tow.  Or the British tourists whose guide was going to be standing forlornly with his sign and scheduled transport at Pudong.  But we were on time!

So now, as has become my norm, I must back up.

I arrived in the vicinity of China by flying from Hanoi to Macau via Bangkok.  If you look at a map, you will see that Bangkok is not on the way to Macau.  But the flights on Air Asia worked out cheaper than Vietnam Airlines’ direct flight.  What I didn’t take into account when booking was that Air Asia is a point to point airline and you can’t check in as a through flight.  This meant that I had to clear immigration in Thailand (the Thai immigration officer was unhappy that I had left blank the line requesting your address in Thailand.  I told her that my only address was the airport because I had a connecting flight in less than an hour), get my luggage, check in for the second flight and go through security- all in about 90 minutes, assuming my first flight was on time.  (Probably not great planning.)  But the Air Asia staff was fantastic once I explained the problem on the plane.  They got my luggage pulled off the plane the moment we landed, had a little airport buggy waiting for me as I was the first passenger escorted off the plane, and had my second boarding pass waiting for me as I flew through the airport (Bangkok airport is a small city and I was wheeling as fast as my flip flops would let me).  Clearing immigration was a breeze as I was the only person on line when I arrived.  I made my flight with a good minute to spare.  Thank you Air Asia.

Macau is charming.  The tourist section is the old Portuguese section with lots of beautiful old buildings and pretty churches.  Then there is the business section of tall buildings followed by the numerous casinos.  In the midst of all this is a whole lot of good food and thousands of shops selling tourist crap, Portuguese pastries, dried meat (this stuff was actually delicious- every shop offers tastes and I could have made a meal of this- would have bought some too, but their minimum sale was 1/2 kilo and I didn’t want to tote around a pound of dried meat) and every thing else you can think of.

Saw all the tourist sights and hit all the casinos.  Enjoyed both and gave my donation to the Macau economy.  Would probably have spent more but, shockingly, the Macau casinos will not cash US travelers checks.

After I reached my personal limit I caught the ferry to Hong Kong.  I arrived in the early evening so I caught the Hong Kong light show upon arrival.  (Actually there really is a Hong Kong light show which I never did see because of the weather.)  My jaw was dropping the entire last 15 minutes of the ferry ride.  Think of what downtown Manhattan looks like, in terms of skyscrapers, and then multiply by 10 or 20.  Add more neon than you can possibly imagine and that’s Hong Kong.  I felt like a total country bumpkin and kept saying “Wow, so many tall buildings!”

The weather upon arrival was not great.  I took the cable car up to the top of Victoria Peak on my first day and saw- white.  Nothing else.  I went back two days later and saw everything- it deserves its reputation.  The entry to the cable car is across the street from the US Consulate where I also made a stop- had to add pages to my passport- that was a first for me.  Word of advice to any readers- the last few pages of your passport are for amendments and advisories (whatever that means) and you need to have enough blank pages in the main section- for arrivals, departures, and visas, or you will have a problem.  I learned this from a fellow traveler who learned this the hard way.

Hong Kong is pretty amazing.  Didn’t see half the things I would have liked to see, but I got good at ferrying back and forth between Hong Kong and Kowloon- the two main islands.  You can cover most of the Hong Kong side without ever going outside.  There are covered pedestrian walkways (skyways is a better word) which allow you to traverse a lot of territory in the area by the water.  Then there are covered outdoor escalators which make it a lot easier to go up and down- since Hong Kong rises pretty vertically from the water to the hills.

Hong Kong is extremely western and you can get anything you want including the Reuben sandwich I ate one night in a restaurant that also sold matzoh ball soup (I have the picture to prove it) and bagels and lox with a shmear.  Of course you can also buy birds nests, herbal remedies, and the usual inedible (to me) edibles.

Then I took the train to Guangzhou.  Another exceedingly large city with a lot of tall buildings and a lot of neon- but no English.  I booked my hotel at the train station and took the taxi they supplied.  My hotel was right by the river and I had an excellent view.   My favorite spot in Guangzhou was Shamian Island- a small island not far from my hotel which used to be owned by the French and British.  Lots of cute old buildings and lots of cute brides and grooms taking their wedding photos in front of the cute buildings.

At this point I realized that I was going to have to hot foot it through China if I wanted to see portion of the 10 or 15 cities I had circled as possibilities on my map.  So I booked a flight to Guilin, a not so easy process at the travel desk in my hotel, since the woman who worked there did not speak much English, but we succeeded eventually.  The flight was an evening flight so I spent the next day seeing all of the tourist sights in Guangzhou- which involved about at least 4 miles of walking- there are subways in Guangzhou, but none of the subway stops seemed to help much for where I wanted to go.  Made it back to the hotel in time to catch a taxi to the airport bus and then to the airport.

Arrived in Guilin around 10:30 after a delayed flight and booked a hotel at the airport.  The hotel I picked (not the one the agent at the hotel wanted) was in Lonely Planet and was one of my biggest mistakes to date, but I didn’t have much choice (or energy) at 11:30.  I agreed to the fifth room I was shown (the first 4 were disasters) and tried to tip the really sweet young man who patiently escorted me from room to room (I will not detail my mood at this point but, trust me, when I say he was patient, I really mean it), but he would not accept it.  I also thought the hotel was a brothel, based upon the for-sale condom selection in the room, but I have subsequently seen that these are offered in every hotel room.  I guess this is one of China’s ways of combating AIDS and is probably not a bad idea- just a bit offputting if you are not expecting this.  When I finally settled in I actually slept quite well, but I nonetheless checked out the next day to find an upgrade.

Spent too much of the next day online (like today, it appears) trying to find a new room and trying to figure out where I was going from Guilin.  The big thing to do is take a boat cruise to Yangshuo, for the scenery along the way.  This can be done in a day, but I had heard that Yangshuo was even better than Guilin.  Found a wonderful new hotel about a block away and then booked my cruise.  (One of the sights on the cruise is a view of the mountains that is on the back of the 20 yuan note; the back of the 10 yuan note is a scene that you catch on the Yangtse River so I now have two of the notes down.)

Then off for a sightseeing walk around Guilin.  Was having a wonderful old time marching around- there are 2 lakes in town and it’s really beautiful- until I got run down by a bicycle (actually a rather large 3-wheeled bike to which is attached a large trailer-like thing).  The driver had ridden down a flight of 4 steps and onto the pedestrian path around the lake.  The result of this accident was not pleasant, but I am not going to explain further here since I do not want to have to leave China earlier than planned.  I ended up with a couple of skinned knees which are healing nicely, but I was shook up and happy to leave Guilin the next day.

I have got to quit here because my neck is killing me and I would like to see a little of Shanghai today.  Yangshuo and Yangtze cruise to follow.

Artilce from:http://blogs.bootsnall.com/myrainasia/the-china-syndrome.html