Tuesday, September 27, 2005

China Pictures

Hi Y'all,
All my pictures, even the ones I don't really like, are at this link. It's a another new location for pictures. Uploading is a lot easier than shutterfly. It's also suppose to be a public album, so you should be able just to click on the link and go there without having to sign up for anything. LEt me know what you think of it. Cheers.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Random Parade

Ok... After dinner I stumbled on a random parade, drumming/singing group. Not really that bizarre, being that often people don't really know what's happening until it hits em. Anyway, it was neat,though I only stuck around for a few minutes.
Check out the pictures. They're dated September 24th.

This is the End - Day 4

Today, the last day in Beijing. Today our plan is to sleep in, then go to the zoo to see Pandas, go to a nearby tower and see the city and then to the Hard Rock for an American style lunch.
The Beijing Zoo.
It's been years since I've seen a Panda. Calgary had the loan of two when we held the Olympics in '88. Here in Beijing, they have a family of 5. Two were inside, and three were outside. Jae tried her hardest to achieve her life goal of touching a Panda. If only she were a little taller, and if the Panda had done it's duty in reaching up to her, she would have succeeded. It was a cute scene... I know Jae will love being called cute. haha.
Both cameras were working hard at the panda exhibit. The pandas were quite photogenic.
The rest of the zoo is a quite interesting as well. There are some beautiful exhibits, and nice parkland. Unfortunately there are a lot of exhibits which are really too small for their inhabitants. Aviaries too small for the eagles or herons to fly. Wolf cages that reeked of urine, because there wasn't much territory, but it was being marked regularly. It's an old zoo, that is slowly changing. It'll be a difficult change, as they are surrounded by city on all 4 sides; not a whole lot of place to expand too. The pandas are the thing ther to see. If you go, go after walking around, because after the pandas, the rest is just a zoo. We spend a lot of time at the zoo, and with the weather being a little rainy, we abandoned the idea of going to the tower. Instead we headed off to lunch.
The Hard Rock Cafe - Beijing
I had one of the best burgers I've had in a LONG time at the Hard Rock. It was great. The cafe itself was just like the others I've seen, but with a heavy accent on Hendrix and the Who. It's another bit of America in another country - I kinda like going there, but it weird when every customer in a place is a foreigner. We bought some souvenirs there too. A nice change when on vacation.
The Long Road Home
At 3:00 we made it back to the Hotel to meet up with Eric for the last time. He brought us to the airport and we said goodbye. He was a good tour guide. In retrospect, I really enjoyed the tour. I think it was a good way to see Beijing for the first time, and on such a tight schedule. Next time I go back, I hope to do it over a longer period of time, and on my own schedule.
The flight left at 6:40pm. We arrived at Incheon at 9:40pm. It was a mad scramble to get to the bus station in time for the bus. Jae hustled us through the line of buses, and we just made it onto the bus for Express Bus Terminal. At Express we hopped onto the 11:20 bus for Yeosu, and we dozed off. I got home at 4am, and was exhausted. I had to be up and at school for my 8am writing class. Boy was I tired. (ZAP!!! in the future now) Last night(Wednesday) I took a nap at 8pm, which lasted until 7am this morning(Thursday)... As said by Spirit of the West... I need home for a rest...
The trip was rushed, but it was worth it. It was also great having a buddy to travel with, and Jaelee was definitely a good person to travel with.
Hope you enjoyed reading about the trip as much as I enjoyed taking it. Cheers.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Day 3

OK... yesterday's bus was a hurting unit. The transmission was shot, and there were times we thought it might not make it till the end of the day. Today there was a new bus waiting for us.
The Silk Factory
Another of the Government factories that you MUST go see if you are on a tour. It's not an option, but don't worry, it was worth the trip. First of all they showed us the process of how they make silk blankets. IT was quite something. The product was quite good too. Several of us eventually bought duvais and silk covers for them. I'm hoping it's a good investment. They were really good sales people. This time Jae and I REALLY held up the group as we took a long time to decide on the duvais. Sorry guys.
The Temple of Heaven
Again like the Forbidden City, renovations were being carried out on many of the main structures to get them into top form for the Olympics. The buildings were mostly off limits, but the park was beautiful. One of the most memorable images for me is seeing the groups of seniors hanging out in the park and playing a variety of games. Most vivid is the image of groups of ladies (late 50s and 60s) playing a hacky-sac type game with a shuttlecock. I can't imagine western seniors doing stuff like that, not even active people like my mom or dad who have almost completed a circumnavigation by sailboat. It was a cool scene.
Lunch was good, and I'm really loving the variety of vegetables served in Chinese dishes.
The Summer Palace
After Lunch we went to the summer palace. Because the Forbidden City gets so hot in the summer, the emperors has places built nearby that they could go to escape the heat. This palace has a man-made lake and man-made mountain(had to put the dirt somewhere.) We stopped at a shop fro one of the art schools. Again Jae and I held up the group as we hoed and hummed over what to buy. I bought a lovely simple drawing of a concubine (it's tasteful) and Jae bought several scrolls of Chinese "Seasons" (not just for herself.) We then went on a nice little boat ride. The three girls from the Irish contingent (actually one is a Kiwi dating an Irishman) bought fuzzy tiaras for the ride. It was a good bit of fun.
The Pearl Factory
Fresh water pearls at reasonable prices. Only Jae wanted to go, but it was a scheduled stop that Eric would be fined for skipping. Virtually everyone bought something. I bought a nice little pearl cell phone charm as a gift for a friend. One lady had over US$100 worth of pearls given to her, when an employee told her to sign the wrong spot on her traveller check. That was something. The most important part of this stop that it was niether us, nor the Irish that held up the rest of the group. Asa!!!
The Peking Duck Dinner
Traditional Peking Duck was served up to us as out last dinner. A chef (he looked 13 years old) came out and carved up the duck right in front of us. It was a tasty way to officially end our tour. The evening was free and tomorrow was the a free day until our plane left at 6pm.
We went back to Wangfujing to exchange a shirt I bought... in China, I'm bigger than a XXXL.... how depressing... hahaha

Friday, September 23, 2005

Day 2

Sunday... we were suppose to head to the Great Wall this morning, but that has been rescheduled until this afternoon. Our itinerary changed to the Jade Factory, the Third Emperors Mausoleum, Lunch, the Great Wall, tea, a Chinese Acrobat show and dinner. A jam packed day.
The Jade Factory
One thing about organized tours is that you have to go to the government factories/stores for a "tour." At the jade factory we were taught how to tell the difference between good jade and not so good jade. They explained the carving process, and then they set us free to shop. I didn't really see anything I wanted, as most of the stuff was pretty expensive. I also kinda look at it in the way that Korea has a lot of jade, so no real need to buy anything. Some of the carvings were nice, but too expensive for me. Not a highlight of this trip.
The 3rd Emperor's Mausoleum
This was another nice stop, but there are a lot of places like this in Korea, and they aren't that different. The highlight of the place was a cute Panda wall hanging that Jae bought. Here unfortunately she also bought some presents for a little too much money. Actually, I bought two books for what I could have bought 3 for the day before at the Forbidden City. It definitely pays to shop with your tour guide beside you, because usually he will caution you when you are not getting a good deal.
This was a shopping stop disguised as lunch. The lunch was mediocre, and the shopping was expensive, despite Eric telling us that this was a place for bargain shopping. One cool thing was being able to see how some of the ornate copper pots were made. Each pot is hand made. First the copper wires are glued to the pot. Then the pot is fired in an forge, to "weld the wires in place. Next, each peice is hand glazed, before heading again to the forge. It's quite a tedious process, but the ladies and few men working were plugging along nicely, listening to theor MP3 players. It seemed decent, but then again that may have only been for our benefit.
I suspect this stop was like the factories in Thailand where Tuktuk drivers get free gas for bringing customers. I don't know if it was a government sanctioned stop, but most of us felt we were given WAY TOO MUCH time to hang out there. Nobody bought anything either. A bit of a time waster.
I climbed the Great Wall of China... and have a T-shirt to prove it. (haha). Jae and I climbed up to almost the top of the ridge the wall went over. We had a few things to do which took a little more time than we had to be able to get to the top.
Imagine this... your hiking up one of the Wonders of the World, and all of a sudden you stumbe on a girl doing a handstand on the steps going up the wall. It's a strange sight, and being the photographer trying to capture the moment (there were several before Jae managed to hold the pose - she was out of practice) I'm a pretty good judge. Jae also needed to do a Cartwheel on the wall for her dad(which I filmed) - that was cool too. Did I mention Jae was a gymnast, and a little crazy? At least she didn't try it on the edge of the wall. The pictures turned out great.
Not to be outdone for peculiarity, I had purchased some cigars at the airport with the idea of having a cigar on the wall. The cigars were dirt cheap, and dry as sand, but they served their purpose. We smoked a couple of cigars atop one of the Ramparts with a couple of English teachers from Seoul(same tour but different group.) I hope Jae eventually becomes famous, because then I can say, I remember doing cartwheels and smoking a stogie with Jae on the Great Wall back in the day... people will think I'm crazy until I show them the pictures... probably won't change there thoughts on whether I'm crazy or not.
We raced down the Wall because we thought we were running late... Alas, we didn't hold up the group; the Irish contingent of our tour group had gone right to the top, and took about 20 minutes longer than we did to get back.
I didn't object as it gave us time to look at the souvenirs. On the way down I had tried to haggle with a vendor to sell me two t-shirts for 70 yuan. He wouldn't budge from the 40 yuan each price, so I walked. At the bottom of the hill, I paid 20 yuan for the same shirt. I was not impressed with buddy up the hill, but was impressed that I saved 20 yuan. I also bought a Rolex Automatic for about $20 - It's new, so I wonder if it's real ;-) It was nice to have a watch again, as I left my Swatch at home.
The Wall was the one thing I was looking forward to the most, but after on the bus, I got to thinking... that wasn't the Great Wall, we were ripped off. What we saw was a walled fortress like the one near Seoul called NamHamSangSeong. We were even told it was a circle that you could walk around. It was a cool place, but at the time I began to think it wasn't the Great Wall. I'm glad I kept my thoughts to myself.
It was the Great Wall, I did some research... apparently the wall was built in several sections. I was expecting the Giant Wall that was built further north(the one you can see from space.) This section is still part of the Great Wall, but built at a different time by a different dynasty. This is one of the sections that doesn't link up as I had expected. I guess my impression of the Wall was tainted by what I remember of Big Bird and Snufflupagus walking on the Great Wall when Seasame Street went to China. It was still a cool hike, with a spectacular view. The antics with Jae made it even more fun/memorable. Some day I'd like to go see the "long stretch" of the wall, but essentially I'm happy with what I did see.
Traffic back was horrendous, so the schedule changed, again. Tea was scheduled to be first,dinner venue was relocated, and we opted for a later Acrobat show. We could have skipped the acrobats as far as I was concerned at the time.
The Government Tea Shop
The tea was good. Our server was telling us all about the different teas and showed us different products including cups with images that changed with heat. I wasn't impressed with the quality of some of the cups, so I didn't buy anything. Korea as tea culture too, and I have more tea than I can drink. At the end, I was attacked by a chicken... honestly I kinda provoked him, trying to pull a "calm the savage beast thing" that my dad does so well... it was good for a laugh.
Just a normal dinner, but the best so far. The first time many of us felt satisfied after a meal.
The Acrobats
Honestly I wasn't that thrilled with the idea of seeing the acrobat show, but I loved it. The stuff this troop did was worthy (actually better) than Cirque Du Soliel. I was filming when my battery crapped out (I still hate rechargeable batteries.) This show was AWESOME. If you go to China, check out one of the Acrobat shows... they are a MUST see!!!
After the show, Jae and I hopped into a taxi and headed for the shopping district. We could tell Eric wasn't that thrilled with the thought of us going there, but he was most helpful.
The shopping there was awesome too. We found prices WAY better than the Gov't stores. That was the place t buy souvenirs and gifts... After, a taxi tried to charge us 50Yuan to take us back to the hotel. Next! Eric told us it would be about 30yuan, and the taxi that took us charged us only 23Yuan. There is always someone who thinks tourists are suckers.
Day 2 was a long day, and like the wall, it was GREAT.
Tomorrow - Silk Factory, Summer Palace, Pearl Factory and the much anticipated Peking Duck Dinner

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Beijing - day 1

1st stop - The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
We went straight to the Forbidden City. Unfortunately a lot of it was under renovation in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. The sections that were completed were stellar. For those of you who don't know, the Forbidden City was that main palace for the Chinese Emperors. It's a huge place. It was "forbidden" to normal people, thus the name. After the overthrow of the Emperors, the People's Party opened it up to the public. It was a good first stop for our trip to China. We walked from the North gate, all the way through to the South gate, leading to Tiananmen  Gate, and Tiananmen Square. Our tour guide, Eric, was a most helpful fellow, and explained lots of things to us about the revolution, and the  dynasties, but only glanced on the "student problems" in 1989. We walked around a bit, and were then off to dinner. Tiananmen was famous for things other than the student in front of the tank in '89. It was from the tower (a big palace gate) that Chairman Mao declared an end to the Feudal rule, and the start of the People's Republic.It's also a giant parade square that can hold hundreds of thousands of people. There is the Great Hall of the People, Mao's tomb, two national museums, a giant flag pole, and a monument to fallen soldiers. It's an interesting place. There were also 20 Yuan Rolexes for sale. (20 yuan = about US$2.50)
1st Dinner...
The dinners we were exposed to were all in restaurants that had a large glass Lazy Susan in the center. We shared the dishes that came out. This first dinner was OK, but not really that satisfying. Satisfying was the beer that was served with dinner. It was good.
After dinner...
The first day was rather short. It was nice. Jaelee and I got back to the hotel and promptly hit the showers. We'd been travelling since Friday night, with no shower. I'm surprised none of our group complained about the strange smell following them around China... "It wasn't there before Marc and Jae showed up." might have been said quietly behind out backs. Anyway, both of us were thankful to get clean, and into clean clothing, if only for a few hours. After showering, we went on the hunt for a store to find Jae some Chap Stick. We struck out huge on finding stores. Most were closed or closing by the time we wandered up to them. Finally we stumbled on a 7/11 beside a nightclub.
 After Jae de-chapped her lips, we popped into "Nightman." It was a nice little club, with lots of young cute girls, young men, and old men sitting around drinking waiting for some good music to come on. The music changed and 3 belly dancer/showgirls came onto the floor, did a short routine. I was entertained... but then they vanished, leaving the floor open for the customers to dance. It was fun, and Jae and I headed onto the floor to dance for a bit. Eric proclaimed to us the next day, that the Beijing nightlife isn't really "happening".
Lost in Beijing...
So, we came out of Nightman, and started walking home. After a while, we stopped to look at cigarettes for Jae. We'd seen Panda brand cigarettes at the Airport for an insane price, so we decided to look here too. Well, they were still expensive, but there were other brands with Panda's on them too. It's not that Jae is a smoker, she just is crazy about pandas. Apparently, the expensive Panda Brand cigarettes are actually made for the Party officials and the rich - a premium cigarette. The ones we saw in the store were likely expensive fakes.
When we came out, we determined that we were lost, and went looking for help to get us back to the CTS Tower(our hotel). We found a lovely young lady (partly beautiful looking, but with an angel's heart!) who helped us figure out where we were going, and also got us into a taxi to get us there. It was luck. (For those who don't know...though having what I think is a decent sense of direction (though it failed me a lot in China), I generally get good an lost once every trip. It seems to me, that getting lost is all part of the adventure... it's not really lost, it's just not really knowing where the heck I am... but I"m never too worried.)
So... that's the end of day 1.
Sleep was good that night. Tomorrow... the Great Wall!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Almost Beijing - Day 1...

Saturday Morning
... apparently we've had enough sleep, as we've been woken by the bus terminal security staff. It's time to slowly head to the airport. The plan is to take the train to Bupyeong and catch the airport bus from there. There is a Starbucks there, and a huge mall. Hopefully we'll at least get a cup of coffee.
7:30am... It's raining. It's pouring... We didn't notice the rain until transferring at Onsu station. This was not so good as we had no umbrella. So we bought one as we went looking for the Airport Shuttle.  We looked for a good 1/2 hour 45 minutes. I was soaked (I hate umbrellas) and all the information we were getting as to the location of the Airport Shuttle was crap. I think we were both getting cranky... especially me. Therefore, I dragged Jae back to the station, and headed two stops back to Songnae station, my old stomping grounds when I lived in Bucheon.  We had no Starbucks and no breakfast, but at least the bus would be there.
9:15am... we arrived at the Airport and tried to check in. The rain was brutal. I was still soaked. The lady at the counter asked us if we were on the 9:40 plane, and since we weren't she told us we could check in at 11:00.
On a spur of the moment thought, I asked if we could go on the 9:40 plane...  it would be better to hang out in China as opposed to a rainy Incheon Airport. We could, and we did. 11ish... Arrived in Beijing, and proceeded to try and find the Xanadu tour leader, with some other English teachers. Found one, but not really the one we were looking for,  or that may have been looking for us, as we really were 2 hours early. Decided to wait on the lawn in the sun outside, and relax until we were suppose to meet out tour at 1

Monday, September 19, 2005

Beijing - In the Beginning...

OK, I'm posting this a few days after the fact, but this should work out.
Friday, September 16
10:40pm - Jaelee and I hopped onto a bus for Seoul. Tomorrow we fly to Beijing for a 4 day wirlwind tour. It's Chusok this weekend, so there are going to be lots of peoplel travelling. The busses were booked, but surprisingly the bus we were on, had room... therefore we had seats to ourselves.
1:30 am... We are about a 1/2 way to Seoul, and traffic the other dirrection is gridlock. There are sooooo many people travelling back to their ancestral homes and even this late. Boy am I glad I'm not heading south...
3:30 am... We are in Seoul. We've decided to crash on the benches in the bus terminal instead of forking out the 13 000won for a JimJilBang because it won't be that different, and we aren't gonna be here very long.
More later...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's the wind

A strange wind is a blowing. It's funny, I've noticed some of the students have been really edgy the past few days, including a pretty good fight today. I kinda wonder if it's the wind, as the winds have really been howling as we catch the edge of Typhoon Nabi. 
Why do I make such a claim??? I remember hearing that when a chinook comes into Calgary, the number of people that check themselves into mental hospitals increases drastically. I'm guessing something about the pressure change that affects us?
I also did some searching on the net, and even Tibetan Monks have a long held belief that wind and insanity are related.
So dispite the wind, my claims are not insane... but the idea is still nuts.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Today I finally confirmed that my electric motorcycle dream is on hold. I had hoped on electrifying the Daelim Magma I bought from Brian and Monica, but as I've looked into shipping the bike when I leave, the more and more doubtful I've become that it is a viable project. The last thing I want to do it spend a tonne of money on parts, devote a fair chunk of time and get stuck having to sell the bike for a pittance of my investment. The dream isn't dead, it's just on hold. I'll look into it in a year of so, depending where I wind up after Korea. Still would have been a cool project.