There are two things I dislike in this world: Mosquitoes and Peruvian men. In fact they tend to have similar characteristics, the both whine around and wont leave you alone. As a lone female traveller one has to develope the skill of looking up from the pavement to view your surroundings without ever catching any mans eye, think of it as a form of ocular ping pong and you can get an idea of what we look like. It would seem that from a Peruvian male’s perspective (generally speaking), a woman meeting their eyes is tantamount to promising to jump into bed with them and if you are so silly as to smile, well you´ve practically sealed you’re marital fate! I’m exagerating slightly and generalising hugely however it’s undeniable that this is my greatest travel annoyance and undoubtably one of the very few things I dislike about Peru, speaking to other lone women travellers it has become clear that they feel the same. I began my trip intent on simply ignoring this irritating habit and focusing on my travels, however the more time passes the more aggressive I become and the more my taste for revenge developes. I think the turning point occured about a 8 weeks ago in Trujillo, a reasonably large city in the north of Peru. Having decided to travel to the Ecuadorian rainforest we had spent the past few nights successfully getting no sleep (resorting to watching the crackling Kareoke on the tv) on night buses as we made our way north. When we got to Trujillo Bianca checked in to a hostel to rest an injured leg for the day and I decided to stretch my bus weary legs in what I hoped would be a peaceful amble around the city. It became clear that this was not to be when I discovered that this sport had reached a new level; even the car’s horns had been changed to sound like a wolf whistle! I did my best to ignore the inuendous stares, comments and disgusting squishy kissing sounds, until sleep deprived and stressed I finally snapped and one unsuspecting tike found himself hit over the head with my water filled bottle! Whilst I had suprised myself it was a greatly satisfying action leaving me itching to try again..a 2 litre bottle next time perhaps..
Excuse my rant, I wanted to share not only the perks but also the downsides to independant travel, not to mention the fact that I just like to rant..Sorry I havent been so hot on the communication in the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to cram so much into such a short amount of time that it seems the only free time I have is when I’m on a bus and as fantastically equiped as South American buses are (cough cough) internet is something thats not yet included in the armrests (thats if you get an armrest!). Since my last e-mail I have perused my way round Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chilli (well, spent 23 hours there..I just wanted the passport stamp if I’m honest!) and back into Peru. After my marathon trek in the Peruvian Andes, Bianca (the other girl on the trek) and I ended up spending a brilliant two weeks in Ecuador. Our first stop was a three day expedition into the jungle where we’d spend the days canyoning with bats flying overhead, climbing waterfalls, treking through virgin rainforest (trying to avoid the index finger sized ants whose sting outs you in hospital), tubing down the river, swimming accross the river against the current, spotting monkeys and numerous crazily big bugs, eating lemon ants and learning about all kinds of weird and wonderful flauna (trees whose sap an kill in 30 seconsds, coco plants, paradise fruits etc) before retiring to our gorgeous wooden lodge situated on a cliff edge and offering a-typical jungle documentary views of the amazon and a talking parrot. When we returned to the jungle town we were suprised o see that a giant ferris wheel had somehow found its way here, riding this rikety old fair ground ride in the middle ride was hugely surreal, especially after a couple of cartons of wine..
Our next stop was a day spent in Quito hugging our bags to stop them getting stolen again after one little mastached man almost successfully got away with Bianca’s that morning (she managed to give him such a scary look that he dropped the bag and ran!). We wondered round the city visiting a couple of churches until we unintentionally attended someones wedding service! The churches throughout South America tend to be intriguing in that they are ridiculously kitsch. You walk into incredibly large, architecturaly rich building to find yourself face to face with giant plastic figurines illuminated by neon ring “halos”. Despite being warned of frequent muggings and kidnappings on nightbuses from Quito, clambered on one particularly rusty and clonking contraption to make our way beachwards. Nightbuses in Ecuador are an experience in themselves, travelling on the cheapest possible we spent many a night on old tin contraptions that would groan and clunk loudly everytinme the accellerator was pressed, their windows broken, their seats smelly and their drivers obsessed with regaeton (a terrible attempt by south americans to rap to tinny salsa) till 4am they didnt make for the most comfortsble of journeys but they certainly pandered to our sense of adventure. Unfortunately we ran out of luck for this particular journey and the bus eventually got stuck/broke down in the middle of nowhere at 3am. The bus driver did very little to qualm our nerves when he spotted us as the only gringos of the passengers on the bus by telling us that we shouldnt be there as we were likely to get mugged! Thankfully we made it to Canoa beach unscathed and spent a brilliant week working our way down Ecuadors beaches which mainly consisted of lazing in hammocks, cocktails in hand watching surfers from the most perfect of Ecuadorian beaches whilst shaded by the coconut trees heavy with fresh coconuts or cantering along the long stretches of white sand on one of the many horses. Our evenings would be spent in a happy haze as we made the most of the many happy hours and would eventually end up skipping along a beach with the intention of going to a far far away cave at about 4am. Our only quirky experience was on Los Frailles a beautiful beach in a National Park, we were the only humans on the beach (and apparently in the whole park) and were happilly sunbathing in the park until the peace was shattered by helicopters circling over head and 30 military men fully gunned, uniformed and complete with sniffer dogs invading the beach. Jumping into our clothes as quikly as possible we discovered they were in such of a group of Columbian drug traffickers who had killed a high profile Ecuadorian official. They somewhat lost their stature in our eyes however as upon seeing us they whipped out their cameras and started snapping photos of us gringos! Next it was one last stop on the hippy beach (literally hundreds of dreadlocked flame throwing ecuadorian hippies) for some partying before leaving Bianca to fly home to the states and re-entering Peru.
Sheesh I have written a lot, I dont know why I’m so suprised..I always write a lot! I have some serious catching up to do in terms of round robin writing, watch out there’s more where this came from!
The streets of the prosperous, buzzing city of New York, characterised by shining glass pannelled skyscrapers, neon lights, Prada, Gucci, Broadway and Yellow taxis couldnt be more different to the Peruvian village I have been living in the past couple f weeks. The skyscrapers have been replaced by small ing mud huts, Prada and Gucci by local markets selling chillies and chickens (i wasnt so tempted to buy one after i saw the only method the vendor had to keep the many flies of them was a leafy branch which she waved around occasionally..!), Broadway by the one local bar which closes at 9.30pm and yellow taxis by random cows and stray dogs roaming the cobbled streets. This little ´pueblo´ called Marcara is situated in the most beautiful of surroundings. At 2700 meters it lies amongst luscious green hills on which giant cactus plants and other exotic flora phenomena grow, and rising high above these his are the towering snow capped peaks of the Andes of which Huascaran, at well over 6700 meters is the highest. From the top of one of these snowy peaks a huge glacier slides its way down the moutain eventually turning into a river which flows down and through the village. With the sun rising behind these mountains, the view I wake up to every morning is phenomenal.
Getting to this village from the dirty, ugly, machine that is Lima was a story in itself. Having been briefed by my Godfather´s friend Renzo on the many and lucrative theives of Lima, i went to the big bus station and waited for my bus nervously hugging my bag seeing everybody who walked past as a thief or kidnapper. It turned out that the only harrassment i received was from a very misguided peruvian chap who moved his move his seat number on the bus so he could come and sit next to me and make pathetic wooing attempts certain that i would fall madly in love with him, that is until I very pointedly stated that i really was fine travelling by myself and that he could go back to his seat!
The journey to the Huaraz took us through some fantastic landscapes. Starting out from Lima we passed through the most barren and vast of deserts with large sand dunes rising on either side of the road, occasionally passing a small hut made of metal panels outside of which was a sea of bright oranges, red and yellow chillies, plaved out in the sun by this deserts inhabitants to dry. Gradually as we started to climb the landscape evolved into green planes with wild horses galloping accross and high mountains as a background, the road became windier and windier as I started to nervously look down the steep cliff that fell away from our narrow road. Seeing a truck turned upside down at the bottom didnt do too much for the vertigo! Refusing to take a taxi from Huaraz to this village i walked around till I found a Combi, a small minibus headed in this direction and clambered in feeling like a giant in respect to the small peruvian lady sitting beside me. We waited until the bus reached its full capacity of 17 people and set of on our way stopping to cram in other people along the way until we all sat cramped up against one another smiling and giggling..using the small amount of movement I could make with my head i looked around to count a total of 30 people plus my big backpack in th bus!
My reason for coming here was to take part in a project run my the italian organisation called Mato Grosso. I had been told that a group of extremely skilled mountain guides they had been teaching with needed to learn english in order to gain their certificate as a qualified guide and thus be able to work. One of the Lima organisers had therefore asked me to come and teach them english in this designated school. However I arrived in Marcara to find that the school was closed and my prospective pupils where scattered somewhere in the mountains at an altitude of around 5000 meters! However although I havent been teaching some of the experiences Ive had here are of the kind I will hold precious for the rest of my life. Instead of teaching i was told I could work with Rosaura, one of the Peruvian volunteers who´s mission is to go and visit villagers who we have heard are living in extreme poverty or are ill and try to decide whether they´re condition is bad enough to necesitate Mato Grosso´s aid. Given that nearly all the villagers live in severe poverty surviving on 5 to 10 soles (50pence to 1 pound) a day and there is no healthcare system this is no easy task.
Rising at 7am our first stop was to visit an ´abuelita´ (old lady) who we had been told by villagers was unwell. We climbed higher up the mountain until we reached her house, a small mud hut of 2 rooms. I think its difficult to really gain an understanding of what poverty means until you see it. We entered her house to find a small very old lady lying on the mud floor (she didnt have a bed or any other furniture) propped up against the wall with some wooden planks and a dirty series of blankets covering her. She said her entire body ached, Rosaura (who is a nurse) diagnosed extreme arthritis as one of the problems, she suffered from so much malnutrition that her sight had severly deteriorated, with nothing but some blankets to cover her she was very cold and severely dehydrated. Although she had sons and daughters (everyone has at least 6 here) she said they didnt visit and she lived on her own. A neighbour occasionally brought her some food when they had some to spare, every 2 days or so. The only remedy she had to calm the severe headaches and body aches were some leaves taken from a nearby tree and said to have healing powers, she placed these on her cheeks and under the hat on her head. When I asked her how long she´d been living on her own and ill like this she said 2 to 3 months. We washed her spare blankets and clothes in the nearby stream and made her some hot tea and promised to come back with medicines and other help. Next we visited a lady whose house didnt even have electricity or water pipes. She lived with her elderly mother and worked to try and support her mother, herself and her 6 children, one of whom at 15 was already pregnant. She said her husband came and went as he pleased, having nothing to do with the family only visiting for a few nights when he felt like it. She said she was having a problem with her house and showed us one of the 2 rooms, the entire wall had caved in leaving a huge mound of mud in the centre of the room and a large airy gap. She said the whole family slept cramped on the floor in the other room. These are just to cases of the many people we´ve been visiting who need help. What makes the situation even more sad is that these are not rare cases but two of hundreds in this area alone. There is a severe problem of unenployment here, with no industry to speak of people live off the precarious crops they create, many travel to Lima in hope of finding work only to encounter the same problems if not worse. Whereas here people still trade in objects ie. 2 chickens for a large amount of gas, those who have no money to buy things with money in Lima barely stand a chance at survival.
On our rounds I heard that a group of Canadian opthalmologists, dermatologists and dentists had come to the village to give free consultations, glasses and medicines to patients but as most only spoke french or english and little to know spanish they were having some communication problems with the locals. Although my spanish is far from perfect I decided to go down and see if I could act as translator. It turned out that I was of quite some use to them and so i spent the next four days working with them doing my best to understand the needs of the patients to the doctors and visa versa. Though tiring and at times frustrating (we saw and average of 630 patients per day in the optician department alone but there are always more patients than time) it was highly rewarding work. One little who had down syndrome, couldnt see more than 3 feet in front of her until we put glasses on her and she burst out laughing, looking around and gave the doctor and i huge hugs. For many people the ability to see well is essential to their livelyhood, many of the women survive by knitting or sowing clothes which they cant do with bad eyes. Unfortunately the sun especially strong at this altitude and very few people can afford sun glasses so most people had some form of sun damage to their eyes. The long queues to see the specialists was testimony to how important their work was here..the lines went all the way tound the health centre, twice, and many people waited from 10pm the night before, a total of over 18 hours, to see a doctor. Working with this group allowed me to get closer to Peruvian culture and gain a better understanding of the Peruvian people than i could ever get as an independant traveller. Nearly all the female patients were donned in the colourful peruvian traditional dress; large flowing multilayered skirts, blouses covered by a vibrantly coloured jumper, and a large almost cowboy style hat decorated with flowers or embroidered patterns. An almost uniformly worn addition to this outfit is a large multicoloured peice of cloth draped accross their shoulders in such a way that it acts as a rucksack allowing them to carry their possessions, which are at timess intriguing on their back. One day a lady walked in to the clinic donned in this traditional dress and sat down in the patients chair, she had a particularly large lump covered by her colourful cloth and the doctor and i couldnt help but notice a strong, very strange small. Not wishing to be rude the doctor said nothng and carried on with the consultation, gradually the lump started moving and a sheeps head suddenly popped its head out of the cloth and bleated at me. It turned out that this was quite a regular occurance, throughout the course of the day i came accross a number of women who had felt the need to take their agricultural animals with them when visiting the doctor!
Tommorow the doctors leave to fly home and I will continue to work here in Marcara with Mato Grosso for a week or so before spending the rest of my 2 months here doing some independant travel around Peru. With this weeks vibrant introduction to the country I am increasingly excited about what lies ahead.
I want to say a HUGGE GOOD LUCK to all of you currently undergoing exams/revision..sorry if this e-mail doesnt help too much, but dont worry i´ll be slogging away just like you all next year only with all of my years of study ahead of me unlike you all!
Take care and good luck,
P.S. Jamie and Ruth Keenan- thanks for the great e-mails, im sorry i havent got back to replying yet, im such an inexcusably lazy bugger. E-mail is meant to help people communicate faster but with my speed at replying old fashioned letters would probably be the same speed! I will e-mail you both soon. Also I have been thinking of having a bit of a steiner gathering this summer.. what do you guys think? It would be great to catch up with everyone properly after such a ong time.
On January 9th we jumped on a soft sleeper train (a bit too luxurious for us rough and ready backpackers but the only ticket available this time of year whilst the chinese masses are on the move for their New Year)from Da Tong to Pingyao. We had been told that Pingyao was one of the best preserved of the old Chinese towns so we were full of hope with high expectations. After the smog ridden, concrete built Da Tong we were yearning for something far more aesthetically pleasing, or at least somewhere where we could breathe! But we stepped off the sleeper train to find a city that looked identical to the one we’d just left, concrete high rise buildings everywhere, looking in onto a big square that had harsh cold music blasting out of the speakers giving the town an eerily communist feel. Amy, Tom and I started jogging our way down the long grey road in an attempt to escape the masses of hotel owners who desperate for client s at this time of year come hunting for westerners at the train station.
However our luck soon changed. Nestled amongst the mass of concrete the old city of Pingyao was everything it had promised to be. Inside the tall city walls was a different world, very few cars are allowed, the streets are all cobbled and traditoinal red chinese paper lanterns hang from each of the shops all of which have the traditionally curved tradtional roofs. We found ourselves a gorgeous hotel all built in the traditional ming style. The bedroom consisted of one huuuge bed that spread from one end of the room to the other, our own shower, toilet (with a seat!), tv, and water cooler, and all for 4GBP a night. Tom soon left as the idea of sharing a beds with us to mad english girls was I think, somewhat daunting.
We spent the next two days living a life of luxury. The first day Amy decided to make the most of the huge bed and crashed out for the day whilst i went to explore the old town. I ambled down the quaint streets marvelling at how people live, although the town is mainly geared towards tourists, the locals seem to have managed to have preserved their way of life suprisingly well. People cycled buy on their bicycle carts selling their wares, and many chinese people still stopped too watch a westerner go by (later some chinese asked to have their photo taken with amy and i). As i walked down the road an old man with an extraordinarily wrinkly face beckoned me into his shop, he offered me tea for free and we spent an interesting hour trying to communicate using my entire range of broken mandarin (5 words!), the rough guide, his gadget to convert chinese to english and a cartoon childrens book written in english and underlined in chinese. We established where I came from, that he had lived there all his life, that i was to be a student and then speant much time speakiung in our own language at eachother although whether we were conversing about the same thing I have no idea!
The next day Amy and I agreed to be given a tour by a poorly clothed, old, cold looking old man. We mainly agreed to do it because we felt sorry for him but it turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made this trip. Another 3 english people came on the tour. Rather than take us to the stale old tourist attaractoins Mr Liu (our guide) took us to see 3 schools, a number of othetr interesting view points and an old ladies home. The children in the schools were gorgeous, they crowded around us fascinated by our cameras, we were allowed to walk into their delapidated but colourful classrooms and even play some games with them..we even got to see their toilets..nice. Their toilet is the front of their school, or everyhere in fact, the parents remove the children’s fly’s so if the kid needs to pee they just do..we were met at the school gates by a little boy issuing a wee fountain from his trousers..delightful. Our guide also took us and got us invited into an old ladies home. She spends the whole day sitting on her bed smoking and watching the world go by from her tiny window, her single room that doubled up as a sitting room had a very large picture of Mao on the wall (who she professed was the best leader of all time). Conversly the other walls were coated with posters of western models. She was very welcoming offering cigarettes and tea a plenty, it was a fantastic opportunity to talk with a local (our guide translated) about her views on this weird and wonderful country. Although not officially included in the tour, we stumbled upon and were invited in to take part in a traditional funeral. The funeral had a far less somber atmosphere that those in the west, the family who’s grandmnother had died had decorated the passageway to they’re home with colourful garlands made of paper, inside their small courtyard a trumpet band was playing very upbeat music and everybody was dressed in white.
At the end of the tour we bought Mr Liu a meal and 3 very thick pared of socks as an extra thank you present. We then made our way to a bar that was blasting our Bob Marley with the fellow members of our tour group, and ended up making friends with the Chinese waitresses and Amy and I even danced with them as the evening progressed (even though we did feel like ungraceful giants compared to them..chinese people are tiny!). The next day we went to a very uninspiring temple, the Shaolin temple, with our former tour group, the funnest part of the day was going to the temple which involved goin on the motorway in a Golf buggy, hired for us my Mr Liu.
Next we went to xian just for a day, we popped in to see the terracotta warriors..their really not all their cracked up to be. Maybe Im being cynical but as far as im concerned once you’ve seen onle little terracotta statue you’ve seen them all..definitely not worth the 60 yuan entrance fee. Then we took a flight to Guilin and took a bus to a little known nearby rural village called Caoping. This place was amazing, we really were the only westerners there and the locals watched us wherever we went, selling us water chestnuts and sweet potatoe. The houses were really simple shacks with straw roofs and no sinks. Chickens and dogs were everywhere and people ambled by walking their water buffalo. We found a local boatman and bargained ourselves a trip down the Li River. The river banks were lined with bamboo, water buffalo were busy grazing while massive vegetation covered limestone peaks rose into the air on either side and dissapeared into the surrounding mists. Little men went by on their homemade bamboo rafts. Our destination Yungshuo turned out to be a very touristy resortish, completely different from the smog covered north. We were invited into a bar by a group of guys and had a massive chinese meal.
Since then we’ve been rock climbing, mountain biking to some obsure rural villages surrounding yungshuo, got mullered on vodka fermented with snake and millipides, saved some frogs, conned a con man, taken a 24 hour journey to Chengdu, negotiated public transport round this mad city and had a proper Sichuanese hot pot (its very very very hot..in fact my mouth is still numb..).
The rock climbing really was cool, we were invited along by a bunch of backpackers we met in Yungshuo and brought our very mad and very Scottish friend (her accent is way way stronger than your dads, everyone is a lad or ‘wee lassie’) who shared our dorm along. We climbed up these very strangely shaped small mountains, the highest we got was thirty meters..high enough to make me hold on for dear life till I could no longer bend my hands for a day! After that we went for a meal with the group and ended up doing a large bar crawl till 4 in the morning (this is where the snake and millipede vodka comes in). We then all ambled to the night market to get some kebabs and there we saw a series of poor frogs on the stalls, alive and trying to free themselves from the cruel sharp netting that restrained them. Here the chinese tradition is to skin the frog alive before frying it, knowing their cruel fate Amy and I couldn’t bare to leave them there. So, (much to the amusement of the stall owner who kept teasing us by pretending to skin them, we bargained for and bought the entire lot) and we all walked down to a nearby pond and set the poor things free!
The next day we set out for our marathon bus journey, we’d bought the ticket a couple of days earlier and after speaking to some chinese locals we realised that we’d been conned into buying a stupidly expensive ticket. Our con man (the guy who sold us the ticket) couldnt speak or understand a word of english so whilst we waited for the bus with him Amy and I had great fun venting our anger at him by mocking him, telling him in a collected manner that he was an idiot with a stupid hair cut a terrible job, and other such pleasentries but in a tone of voice that he couldnt guess what we were saying.. very immature but suprisingly fun. Once we got to the station and realised that they weren’t even sleeper tickets but upright seats I really exploded..a bus official took me and the guy to a woman who could speak english and act as translator..I demanded that if we didnt get our money back we’d set the police on him (I was sure he wasnt paying tax on his earnings)..this worked amazingly well and cursing and swearing he coughed up until we paid the correct price for the ticket. After that the 24 hour bus journey didnt feel quite so bad.
We are currently staying in Chengdu the capital of the Sichuan province, a clean and rather unexciting town but a place where the food is fantastic, renowned as the best in China in fact. Everything is dipped in a mouth numbing chilli but is suprisingly tasty. Tommorow we are heading to a well reknowned panda reserve where we are told, we are guaranteed to see many Pandas. We are also planning to set out on a two day trek up an near by mountain, Emai Shan. Here one spends the night in Buddhist monasteries on the way up, the mountain is reputed as being highly populated by monkeys, we’ve even been told to bring a big stick as the very hungry monkeys are often prone to attack!!
I hope you’re all well and having a fab time whereever you are and whatever you’re doing. Keep me up to date with developments :). Dad could you please ring mum again sometime soon and keep her posted on what we’re up to and mainly that I’m still alive?! Thanks 🙂
Take care all and I wish a Happy Chinese New Year! (January 29th),
Or perhaps I should say ni hao..we’ve only been in china for 3 days but we’ve already done so much that it feels as though we’ve been here for much longer.
Upon arrival caught the shuttle bus from Beijing airport without any difficulty… Watching all the other westerners head to the hugely overpriced taxis that go from the airport whilst we took the bus with all the chinese people gave me that satisfyingly (and admittedly slightly gloating) intrepid feel. We stepped off the bus and had to look for a taxi for the final leg of the journey to our youth hostel. For some reason all genuine taxi driver’s were doing their utmost to avoid us as we tried to flag them down..the only ones offering us a ride were the rather shady looking men who owned battered up metal boxes on wheels that they claimed were taxis regardless of the fact that there was no taxi sign to be seen! I’ve been told that chinese think westerners smell but i didnt realise it was quite that bad! Admittedly, given that we hadn’t slept for 28 hours we were starting to look pretty scary too, not unlike members of the Shaun of the Dead cast you might say.
The next day we were up at six in the morning climbing into an ice covered van with a bunch of people we met at the hostel to do a fantastic 10km trek along the Great wall. The views were awesome and because we chose an area that is less known there were no other tourists in site. To get to the great wall we had to walk through a small chinese village whereby a large number of chinese farmers attached themselves to us and later started trying to flog us useless
books with pictures of the wall, for some of us the only way to escape was to run as fast as we could! That night Amy, our 8 hostel buddies and i headed towards Beijing’s infamous food market. We sampled snake, silk worm, grasshopper, fried prawns, locust, dumplings (containing some very obscure meat..) amongst others and I bought a dog’s penus…I should add i thought he said duck at the time, and before you ask, no i didnt eat it!
Yesterday’s challenge was negotiating our way round beijing’s vast train station and buying a ticket..which is easier said than done when there’s not a chinese/english speaker in site and all writing is in chinese characters. The station is a massive complex teaming with chinese looking for tickets to go on their holiays (we’re nearing the time of the chinese new year), when we finally figured our which line we needed to stand in we had to sharpen our elbows to
get to the ticket booth, this appears to be a country where queing doesn’t exist. Miraculously we got somehow managed to get a ticket..and then tried to decipher the characters to establish if we’d bought one to the right destination! That evening we went out for a huge and delicous meal with a bunch of people we met back at the hostel, and I discovered the best meal ever for all
you none veggies; peking duck (the whole meal cost us 2 pounds each). Unfortunately we also rank rather too much chang beer, after which we had to tipsily negotiate our way round the metro system to get to the train station and narrowly managed to catch our sleeper train to Da Tong.
We chose the hard sleeper class (the cheapest), and were therefore the only foreigners there. The train was packed and as we entered all our fellow passengers watched us curiously, we soon settled in saying ‘Ni hao’ all round and compensating for our inability to speak mandarin with overenthusiastic huge smiles, one chinese man was fascinated by my rough guide book to china, asking to look through all the picures. When you first walk into a hard sleeper carriage first impressions make you believe that you wouldnt be innacurate to use the simily ‘like a can of sardibes’ to describe the way people are packed in, there is a thin coridoor on one side with fold down seats, whilst the rest of the space is taken up by doorless compartments each containing six beds (3 rows stacked on each wall). Expectations of privacy is certainly not something people should illude themselves with when on these trains, however although one is quite exposed I dont understand the warnings of theft/rape that are given in the guide books with reference to travelling on hard sleeper trains in hard seat class, we both felt completely at ease. Apart from the frequent snotting and spitting (not so delightful) our chinese companions were hugely welcoming, eager to help us with our bags and to practice their english with us. In fact
since arriving in China I have been stunned by the kindness and warmth of the chinese people. They always smile at us and are eager to help us, if we ask one person a question we will soon have a whole group surrounding us wanting to contibute.
This morning we arrived in Da Tong, a city which is characterised by heavy smog clouds (all the richer people here wear masks to protect against the pollution which really is intoxicating) coal mining, factories, black snow, frozen rubbish splurging out of full drains on the streets and poverty. We came here to see the Yungao caves (an amazing complex of fourty five caves with huges varying sculptures of buddhas created by various chinese dynasties) and the
hanging temple (a temple set in the side of a cliff supported by nothing other thn thin logs) both of which were excellent. However what made this visit a special experience for me was the view from the bus on the way to the sites.
Its extraordinary to see how some people can live in these conditions, shantih towns consisiting of delapidated buildings whose roofs were made of strw/rubbish lines the bumpy brokenroads. We saw numerous donkey drawn carts carrying newspaper or other rubish that people had salvaged from the waste to use as fuel/housing. It was so sad to see a man sifting though the dirt on the roa side trying to collect peice of coal dropped by the lorries. People cycled on bikes with giant loads 10 times the their size on the back, meandering amongst the very precarious traffic. At the other end of the scale we saw a brand new, gigantic military complex, the communist star displayed proudly on the front. The green military uniformed soldiers are everywhere in this city. The atmosphere in this city and in beijing is unlike aything i’ve known, whereas in the uk, the vast majority of people walking on the streets seem to be walking quickly, or at least with a purpose here it seems that at least half of the popultion here have nothing to o, sitting on the dirty side streets or ambling round on bikes. I find just watching how people live here so much more interesting than seeing the typical tourist attractions. Amy and I spent a couple of hours ambling down beijings back streets way from the neon signs and buzzing atmosphere, here we saw the chinese peoples homes and got to witness how they live outside work..its silly how seeing such common things like watching them do their shopping in a supermarket (although i had trouble not gagging when seeing all the skinned dead dogs strung up) is so facinating.
Anyhow ive rambled on for far too long and Amy, Tom (a random american whose tagging along) and i risk missing our second sleeper train to Pingyao, an apparently much more beautiful city in an old chinese style.
I hope everythings going well for you all and that your having a good time at uni/work/travelling etc. Carly I’m so sorry i havent e-mailed before now..I will make it up with a letter one of these days, I hope your ok anyway 🙂
You didn’t expect an uncategorised blogs to be the first of mine but I warned you 😉 Anyway, I am generally a fan of japanese cinema. I love Akira Kurosawa’s movies. I enjoy most of the other classics from Japan. However I don’t mind to watch manga or anime too. I’ve even seen ‘The Ring’, the original japanese version and I think it was quite ok as for a horror movie, it had an athnosphere and was a bit frightening (and I must admit I am not a regular horror movies watcher, since the ”Screem” and it sequels I got bored of it).
So you can imagine me sitting in front of a TV, after starting ‘Dark Water’, made by the same people that made ‘The Ring’ (speaking about japanese versions all the time). And…
Hmm, how to say it gently… It sucked a bit… It wasn’t scary at all. I mean I don’t mind the characters not screeming when they see something frightening, it’s a matter of western culture to shout as much as you can. But when you are a little girl and you are looking at a quite deep bath that is filling with ugly slimy dark water, which spills out and starts to boil or something YOU DON’T STAY AND STEAR AT IT and wait for rotting little arms to grab your head and try to drown you! but get the hell out of there!!! And the whole movie is like that, they just keep acting silly…
Oh, I almost forgot, I wonder -what is so exciting in a scene where a young woman has to hold and snuggle a small zombie girl (a very rotten one)? There must be something if you can find this scene in both ‘The Ring’ and ‘Dark Water’ films. I haven’t seen ‘The Ring 2’ nor ‘The Ring 0’ so I can’t tell if this doesn’t happen more often…
Well, I think I will still be a fan of japanese cinema, but a more careful one from now on…
(I intentionally did not write anything about american versions of the above and other films, this is a different topic for a separate post…)
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