Thursday, March 26, 2009

China Part1 Nanning-Chengdu

Compared to Vietnam, China is extremely commericalized, and yes, the whole world agrees that Kobe is the best basketball player in the world. Every city has these giant mega malls, with tons of neon lights.

Tea is served at every meal. Also, the Chinese spend whole afternoons at teahouses. The tea house give you loose leaf tea, and a jug of water. The tea leaves lasts for 20 cups of tea, which means that the 1st 5 cups of tea are going to be undrinkably strong

Yes, It is that part of the world

From Guilin, we went to Yungshou, a small town surrounded in all directions by the karst mountains. Renting a bike and exploring the scenery along the river was relaxing.

At our cooking class, we made garlic eggplant, sweet and sour pork and handrolled beef dumplings. When I get back, don't keep your expectations too high, but I am pretty sure I can make it better than Panda Express.

We are like celebrities here - It seems like almost daily that we get asked to pose for a picture with a stranger. Also, 5 times a day little kids run up to us and say "Hello, where are you from"

People say that temples are the same as cathedrals, once you've seen one, you've seen all of them. However, I have found temples much more relaxing. Temples have people meditating in the gardens or relaxing by the pond.

At the panda center in Chengdu, we saw red pandas and adult pandas at feeding time. I tried ripping through bamboo with my hands and it didn't work out to well for me. Those pandas have quite strong claws.

Everything is fake here - Some of the Swooshes on logos are laughable. Most Adidas or Nike clothing also has the brand of the company that manufatured it. This guy conned us into stayed at his hostel in Yungshou by telling us it was "HI" (or "hosteling international"). They even made a fake HI placard.

This is the result of traditional chinese medicine- After putting cups on your back, they light them on fire to create a vacuum. They basically pull the underlying tissue up to try to get rid of all the toxins. I look like I have been bean bag gun shooting practice.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hanoi-Halong Bay-Sapa

Snake Village - When we got to Hanoi, we met up with Jaycie and spent an afternoon at Snake Village. They took a live snake, slit its throat, and put a still beating snake heart in a shot glass, which we got to eat.

Then they turned the snake into a 6 course meal, and gave us unlimited snake wine

Uncle Ho Forever - Like the Pope, the Vietnamese have embalmed Ho Chi Minh's body and put it on display for everyone to see. (No cameras were allowed)

A foggy dream – Ha Long Bay has 2000 karst islands darting through the bay surface, surreally masked by the intense fog. It was unlike anything else I had experienced.

The water was quite cold but kayaking around the islands was a highlight. We stopped to spelunk at an island with a cave. Jaycie and I stayed an extra day because we didn't want to leave this unreal place. On our extra day we had a hike with the unbelievably lush plant growth. We heard monkeys but could not see them. At the top of our hike, there was a rickety water tower about 100 feet high. Every step that everyone took shook the tower. Also, the last step was missing so we had to jump over a gap to get onto the top platform. Definitely not built to US quality control standards.

Eastern "Medicine" - Our guide bought this bottle for his father. Inside are 6 fermenting geckos and 4 fermenting sea horses. Apparently this drink is "very good for old man" "Makes him sooo strong"

So how do I drive this thing? - Jaycie and I rented a motorcycle for a few days to explore the small villages in Sapa, the jungle region. The road to the villages was carved into the side of a steep mountain, with gigantic drops (and breathtaking views of endless rice paddies) - not the best place to learn how to ride a bike. Just as I was getting a feeling as to how to handle the bike, a stream interrupted the road. I stopped about 20 feet before the start of the stream, which I could see was 6-8 inches deep, and rocky. There was no easy way around the water so I cautiously eased in, with no momentum. As we hit the deep part of the stream my front tire hit a rock and we felt our bike tipping over to the right. I hit the gas as hard as I could and my front tire lifted out of the water. As we came out the other side, I sent Jaycie air born. He miraculously landed in his seat, and I sorted the steering out. Needless to say, we both started screaming in elation. When the driver of the bike is screaming expletives, its not so fun to be the passenger.

Not as scary as they look - Water buffalo have big horns. Which made me a bit wary about getting too close. But later I was little village kids riding them like horses. I did muster up the courage to pet one walking in the middle of the road. However, I was prepared to set my personal record in the 40 yard dash

Ban Ho Minority Village Homestay – After a few hours of cliffside riding, Jaycie and I spent a night at a local village. Everyone was really nice, and family that we stayed with spoke English and wanted to know more about California.

The calming sounds of a nose flute - On our train back from the jungle region, this guy sat next to us, played Beethoven's 9th Symphony with a wooden flute through his nose. For our 11 hour bus ride we bought the $4 hard seat tickets that mainly the locals ride. They never sell out of train seats. If all the seats fill up, they start selling B-tickets. Ticket 22B means you have to stand or sit on the grimy floor near seat 22.

Other crazy things I've seen on a bike – over 1,000 bananas, a pony, 30 chicken in 2 crates, a family of 5, 14 20-liter (about 5 gallons) bottles of water.

Girl Possessed - This girl followed me around for 10 solid minutes trying to get me to buy a hand woven cell phone holder/purse. I didn't have money on me but I couldn't translate that to her. And I couldn't outrun outmaneuver her on the rocky muddy trail. I had to use Jaycie as a human shield, until she got distracted by another tourist. Serious persistence!

Matching Ladies – There are a ton of fabric stores around here. I only presume that every lady pics out a pattern and says “tailor me a matching jump suit”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nha Trang-Hoi An

Hey guys, sorry for taking so long to but this blog up. I wrote it about 2 weeks ago, but I have not had the time to upload the pics and finalize it.

Boat Cruisin' - Nha Trang was big backpacker destination. One of the main draws is a day long cruise to 4 islands with snorkeling, a nice beach and a Vietnamese feast. I went on the cruise with Sarah, the English girl we traveled with through 3 cities, and met quite a few other backpackers. When we went out to a bar at night with the people I met on the day cruise, I ran into a few Aussies I met in Mui Ne. Somewhere between walking drunk people back to their guest houses between 4 and 5 AM, I decided to set my alarm for 8AM and join the Aussies as they were doing the cruise the next day. 2 days of boat cruising made me pretty tired.

It was nice how Nha Trang accommodated Westerners, but there were all kinds of people out to get your money. A bar worker took a full drink off our table, and made us buy another drink. When we begrudgingly did this, they tried to keep our change. Also, there was a band of pickpockets that the police looked the other way about. The further north we got, the more crime there seemed to be.

Easy Riders– From Nha Trang, Andrew and I took a 3 day motorcycle tour through the central highlands. One of our guides was an ex-South Vietnamese soldier in the US-Vietnam war. He had an amazing life story. After the south lost the war, he was sent up to the north for 4 years of “re-education” camp to learn how to be a good communist. Afterwards he took his family on a tiny canoe, and tried to escape Vietnam. He got caught and was “re-educated” for another 4 years. He had a very different view of the US war effort. He thought that we were in there for the right reason, we were just hesitant and unorganized. He thinks that if the war had been popular back at home, history would be written differently.

All the pics except for the last 2 were on our easy rider tour:

The real back country -Some of the views on the passes were incredible. This ride really changed my view of Vietnam. There is so much untouched land. It was dry season, so there weren't as many swampy areas as I thought. Also, the government has spent a lot of resources replanting trees since 1975 because whole groves have been wiped out with Napalm

Hook and Line -For the amount of resources given to them, the Vietnamese are extremely clever. In America everything that can be automated is. In Vietnam, labor and cost of living are so cheap, many more things are done by hand. Also, they don't have the infrastructure to handle or create the mass production that we have in the states. Boats go out for up to 45 days at a time, but they do not have refrigeration. Instead, they load the boats up with 2000 pounds of ice to keep the catch cold until they get back to land. Obviously, the boats that go out for a month are on the left of the pic, not the right.

Buddha – Our guide told us this Buddha was smiling because he was bathing in the river and he saw a beautiful girl on the other side of the river so he cut off his “snake” and threw it at her. It fell in the water and now he has 7 mermaid kids. He could then spend the rest of his life being celibate and have less distractions as he searched for answers.

It was only a 50 foot drop- This bridge was made out of bamboo and rope. Some planks were missing. It swayed in all direction as we crossed it. It seemed like I could build something like this in my back yard.

Minority Village – The minority villages in Vietnam were treated similar to the Native Americans in the states. they were put on a land with very little help from the government. The houses were built in this fashion so tigers couldn't come into the houses. Instead the tiger would steal a (more easily replaceable) chicken or boar and head back into the jungle.

The scariest thing since passing semi-trucks on windy roads on motorcycles a few hours before - Andrew and I also did an elephant ride in the village. At this point our toes were in the water as the elephant crossed the deep part of the lake. We both thought our cameras were toast as the elephant stumbled on the lake floor. Elephants are such prehistoric creatures.

I almost got a fang shaped memory of this trip– One of the guide's friends owned a python, so we stopped by. After I took this picture, I took a closeup of the snake's face. I left the flash on and the snake lunged at me and tried to sink it's teeth into my arm. I don't like snakes much. I also assume Andrew was a little freaked out with an angry snake on him.

Guess what they were out of that day? - Instead we ordered Hedgehog. Other things I have eaten/been offered: snake heart, bat on a stick*, cubed chicken**, sea urchin soup

*They killed a bat, ripped off its wings, and put it on a skewer, skin and all.

** We thought that they were going to cube the meat, but they cubed the bird. We got a beak, neck slices, 2 feet, and who knows what else.

After the easy riders, we went to Hoi An. The touristy part is about a 1km x 1km, and there are over 200 custom tailored suit shops. For cheap, I got 2 nice suits. As long as I don't put on 20 pounds, they will still fit.