Thoughts of a Flowertot… China

Ok, so it’s now 28th November 2011.

We left home 49 days ago.

We have travelled 15445km. 5165km by air & the remaining 10280km overland by train.

We’re tired all the time.

We’re realising that it’s very difficult to blog when you’re out doing stuff all the time.

We’re realising that we’re carrying far too much crap around.

This travelling malarkey really is hard work, although maybe it’s just China…….


We arrived here some 18 days ago now, lavishing 12 days of our time to Beijing to do… well not very much really!

Don’t get me wrong, China is a fantastic country steeped in history & culture.  I think we had both underestimated just how tiring travel can become and after 6 weeks we were both pretty burnt out. You realise this when you reach somewhere awesome & think ‘can’t be arsed, shall we go find a beer?’ Then 3 days later after having hardly ventured past the bars & bed we remembered we were in Beijing. Unfortunately by then the place really wasn’t agreeing with us.

The problem is that for me, once I’d seen a few temples they all kind of started to look the same. While beautiful and whoppingly massive I keep seeing exactly the same lions, dragons and Chinese character dude everywhere.  It is bloody freezing at the moment too which doesn’t exactly inspire ponderous exploration of anything but warm places (like the bar)

Now, there are a few unpleasant things that I need to get off my chest about China:

  • Spitting & hocking up phlegm seems to be a national sport.  I’ve seen a shop owner spitting into a bin beside his counter and then continue serving, a passenger snotting onto the tracks as the metro doors closed. The streets are literally lined with globules of mucus. Tissue anyone?
  • Tissues, leads me on to another part of China that I’m not getting on with – the squat toilet. No paper provided, rarely a sink (thanks for the hand sanitizer Ma!)  If you’re lucky you get a cubicle, perhaps a door even but not always.  This may be quite normal to guys having used urinals but Ladies I’m sure you can imagine my delight to enter my first public toilet to see just a line of holes in the floor.  Oh my god I thought, I don’t even know which way to attack this from…which way do you even face?!? Terrified of being caught mid action committing some embarrassing bathroom faux par I scarpered (imagine being caught at home using the toilet the wrong way round, facing the cistern – you would be considered mental unless, perhaps, wearing a wedding dress at the time) The problem is things do actually get worse from there….trains………mmm yummy squat toilet on a moving vehicle. Who the hell ever thought that was a good idea?!?  Problem is that I know things are unlikely to get much better now for quite some time.  The joys of travel eh!
  • Loudspeakers – man, China loves the loudspeaker….to ‘entice’ you into shops, to join a tour, for crowd control in the Metro.  These are usually pre-recorded messages in dulcet tones on repeat that become an irritating cacophony of noise to those who are uneducated in the Chinese language.  Perhaps they are offering free chocolate, free tours, decent beer?  Whatever delights we may be missing out on, it’s pretty impossible to marvel and appreciate somewhere when all you can hear is the babble of a thousand tour guides.
  • Food – I was looking forward to Chinese food. Now I’m looking forward to not eating it ever again.  When the highlight of a menu is broccoli & boiled rice there’s something wrong.  Maybe the good stuff is reserved for the pricier tourist haunts but from what I can gather chicken seems to be bone – chopped carcass with a millimetre of flesh. This is often disguised in a sauce or deep fried in a crispy coating. Either way ‘chicken’ is now of the menu for me.  Bread is also a little hit & miss.  I bought bread rolls to dip into soupy noodles but then found a brown poolike present inside. Hmm, checked another one – ‘yep supposed to be there,  just not sure what it is’ (chocolatey texture neither sweet nor savoury or any other distinguishing flavour) We’ve had  steamed dumplings with luke warm doughy textures housing a similar brown substance.  Curdled egg bake. Spring rolls filled with greasy wasabi like goo. Even the safe option ‘hamburger’ turned out to be a soggy micro waved spam burger. A fine treat!

Ok, Ok enough of the whinging I hear you cry. It’s just that sometimes all you long for are those simple things from home. Sometimes you just don’t get on with the local ways of life.  We were also pretty spoiled by our time in Siberia & Mongolia.  Right now, we’re both really REALLY looking forward to getting to Japan!

However, for now we are still in China & have ended up covering significantly more of it than we had planned.

Mentally taking myself back to first impressions of Beijing, I know that it is fantastic – a bustling city that meshes 21st century development with ancient sites.  We were staying at the Flowering House Hostel within a Hutong for the first 4 days. A hutong is essentially a maze of busy back streets leading to various court yarded properties. Locals sell a multitude of dishes, fresh fruit & veg etc  and the only danger is that of being run over by the cyclists bezzing through (the lanes are far too small for cars) . Unfortunately many of the Hutong areas were demolished and replaced with skyscrapers. Our room was very small and basic but staying at the hostel  gave us a real taste of how Beijing life used to be and it felt so far removed from being in a city that we found it difficult to get into ‘tourist mode’ to see the sights. We did however manage to frequent many bars with Tom beforehand & also caught up with Jessie & Jo at the night market. I’ll let Paul pick up from here as I can only vouch for part of this experience…………..